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University strikes to continue after deal collapses

Protesters outside the Ulster University in Belfast. Picture by Hugh Russell

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STRIKE action by university staff will continue after union members thwarted a deal between employers and lecturers' leaders.

The University and College Union (UCU) has been locked in a battle with Universities UK (UUK) over proposed pension reforms to address a reported deficit and rising benefit costs.

A deal appeared to be agreed between the parties on Monday under which employers and employees would both temporarily pay higher contributions to plug the funding gap.

The UCU has been involved in an unprecedented level of industrial action. Staff fear changes could cost an average lecturer £200,000 over the course of their retirement, while university employers have insisted the changes are necessary.

Members at Queen's and Ulster universities have held numerous walk-outs.

The UCU yesterday said that talks with UUK had concluded, and that a transitional benefit arrangement had been agreed, subject to consultation with its members.

There were calls from some strikers, however, to turn down the deal and push for a more "decisive victory".

UCU's branch at Ulster University was one of the first to reject the proposal and said it planned to return to picket lines today.

"A move towards any deal is a victory, but this cannot be it," said Anthea Irwin.

"We did not make all the sacrifices we have made to be sold out with a deal that reads like it came from people who have been watching a different version of the last month."

The proposals were considered by UCU's higher education committee and branch representatives on Tuesday, but rejected, the union said.

"Branches made it clear today that they wanted to reject the proposal," said UCU general secretary Sally Hunt.

"UCU's greatest strength is that we are run by and for our members and it is right that members always have the final say.

"The strike action for this week remains on and we will now make detailed preparations for strikes over the assessment and exam period. We want urgent talks with the universities' representatives to try and find a way to get this dispute resolved."

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