UNIVERSITIES in the region could be facing a further 14 days of strike action during this year’s exam season.

Staff at Durham, Newcastle and York universities are three weeks into industrial action over changes to their pension.

The University and College Union (UCU) has now announced a further 14 days of action, to be timed to coincide with exams held between April and May.

UCU general secretary described the action as a “necessary precaution” against the failure of talks between the union and Universities UK (UUK).

She added: “The union would prefer dialogue and I have given my personal commitment to Acas that UCU is serious about reaching an agreement. However, if talks fail, we are prepared to carry out the action in defence of our pensions.”

Members of the union were on picket lines outside university buildings for four days this week, with a further five days of action planned next week, which will be the fourth week of disruption.

Meanwhile, more than 5,000 Durham students have signed a petition calling for the university to compensate them for lost teaching time.

The dispute is over changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) pension scheme.

UUK says the scheme is £6.1bn in deficit and to become sustainable must be changed from a defined benefit scheme to a defined contribution scheme.

It’s recent valuation found that the cost of providing benefits has increased from 26 per cent of salaries to 32.6 per cent.

UCU says the changes will leave the average lecturer almost £10,000 worse off and says the current scheme is working well.

A UUK spokesperson said: “UUK are disappointed that UCU are preparing for additional industrial action that could further disrupt students’ education.”

“UUK has again restated its request to the union that industrial action is suspended while talks at ACAS continue. As part of any alternative proposal, we will expect that industrial action is suspended while UUK consults with all employers.”

Durham University vice-chancellor Stuart Corbridge said the institution’s executive was advocating further discussions at national level.