STAFF at Durham University are set to go on strike next week after no agreement was reached between union and university representatives.

Eight days of strikes are planned by academic staff at 60 universities across the country as part of a dispute over pay and working conditions and changes to pensions.

It follows a vote by members of the University and College Union (UCU) in favour of strike action.

Durham's vice-chancellor professor Stuart Corbridge said: "It is with deep regret that divisions within the sector are once again threatening to disrupt our students’ education. Our focus throughout the strike period is on the welfare of colleagues and students and to minimise the impact of strike action on the learning experience of our students.

“We fully appreciate the depth of feeling amongst UCU members and recognise the right of colleagues to take part in industrial action; a decision which will not have been taken lightly.

“We are one employer within this national disagreement but where we can take action at a local level to improve the employment conditions of our staff we continue to do so, working with our trade union representatives.

“We generally support the position adopted by UCEA and  UUK, but  also recognise that to find a resolution to this dispute both sides need to remain open to further negotiation and compromise.”

Staff will be on the picket line on Monday, with one planned for the entrance to Durham's site off Stockton Road, near the Palatine Centre.

Meanwhile there will be a strike rally in Newcastle's Old Eldon Square on Monday, with speakers including TUC regional secretary Beth Farhat, Labour candidate for Newcastle Central Chi Onwurah, UCU regional secretary Emma-Jane Phillips, as well as staff and students from both universities.

Today, university leaders have written to the UCU to formally outline their commitment to continuing to work with the union to deliver long-term reform of the university pension scheme, known as Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS).

The union says university representatives refused to discuss pay during talks earlier this week and failed to make a "serious offer" on changes to the USS.

Iain Owens, UCU North East regional official, said: "Strike action is a last resort, but universities’ refusal to deal with these key issues have left us with no alternative. It is staggering and insulting that universities have not done more to work with us to try and find a way to resolve these disputes.

"We hope students will continue to put pressure on university vice-chancellors to get their representatives back round the negotiating table for serious talks with the union."

The Northern Echo:

UCU members from Durham University on strike in 2018

USS employers say they have taken steps to keep benefits at the same level and protect the value of pensions for their staff.

Together with the UCU, USS employers have commissioned advice from a Joint Expert Panel [JEP] and used its recommendations to keep costs down.

The second report of the JEP, due to be published soon, will also include options for long-term reform, including looking at valuation methodology and shared valuation principles for the future.

Carol Costello, speaking on behalf of USS employers, said: “It is not possible to change the 2018 valuation outcome, but many USS employers and scheme members want to see changes to the USS valuation methodology and scheme governance ahead of the next valuation in 2020.

“The Joint Expert Panel will soon publish its second report, including options for new methodology for assessing the financial health of the scheme. This should be the springboard to stepping up discussions which we hope will lead to greater confidence in the valuation process and governance arrangements.

"We are calling on the union to work constructively with employers to deliver positive long-term changes to the USS scheme.

“Under pensions law, the scheme needs more money to keep benefits at the same level – which has always been a key demand of the UCU. Many institutions will not be able to afford a higher share of the contributions, and the costs and risks of this scheme are shared equally by all.

"We will continue to talk with the UCU, as we have done over the last 18 months, on a joint and fair solution to this pensions dispute.”

At Durham University, 80% of UCU members polled voted for strikes over changes to USS pensions and 74% backed strikes over pay and conditions.

Meanwhile in Newcastle 85% of UCU members polled voted for strikes over changes to USS pensions and 78% backed strikes over pay and conditions.