HUNDREDS of academic staff in the region could be going on strike next month as part of a row over pensions.

Staff at both Durham and Newcastle Universities have voted in favour of strike action and are likely to walk out on February 22 and 23.

Members of the University and College Union (UCU) are angry about proposed changes to university pension schemes, which they say could cost an average lecturer £200,000 over the course of their retirement.

The UCU says 88 per cent of members who voted in Durham, and 90 per cent in Newcastle, were in favour of striking.

Regional support officer Jon Bryan said: “The result that we have had in our ballot shows the depth of anger that there is from a wide range of our membership. To say ‘They are not happy’ would be an under-estimation of how they feel.”

Staff are angry at plans to change the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) from a defined benefit scheme, where they would have a guaranteed income in retirement - to a defined contribution scheme, where their pensions would be subject to changes in the stock market.

In Durham there was a 57 per cent turn out, with 88 per cent in favour of strike action and 93 per cent in favour of action short of a strike.

At Newcastle there was a 62 per cent turn out, with 90 per cent in favour of strike and almost 94 per cent in favour of industrial action short of a strike.

Mr Bryan added: “The union has always maintained a position that we do not want to disrupt the education of students, but the attack on the USS pension scheme for those that work at Durham University (and across the country) means that we have to resort to our last resort – taking strike action.

“It is not too late to prevent the disruption, but things do need to change if it is to be avoided.”

Overall 61 of the 68 universities which are members of the USS scheme voted in favour of going on strike.

Durham University vice-chancellor Stuart Corbridge said: “I fully understand that the proposed changes to USS are a source of concern and anxiety to our staff.

“I am aware that the decision to vote in favour of industrial action will not have been taken lightly by many of our staff.

“Durham University respects the right of staff to take part in industrial action and we understand the strength of feeling in relation to the proposed changes to USS.”

Following the ballot results, further talks on Tuesday ended without an agreement between UCU and Universities UK, which is trying to make the changes.

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said she was disappointed at how talks had ended.

She said: “Staff will feel utterly betrayed by their leaders.

“Now is the time for university leaders to recognise the scale of this problem, how angry their staff are and to work with us to avoid widespread disruption in universities.”

The UCU are planning an initial 14 days of strike action with two days planned for February.

The action would then escalate to three-day, four-day and five-day walkouts.