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Swell in union membership at university amid dispute over pensions

PUBLISHED: 13:16 22 February 2018 | UPDATED: 13:16 22 February 2018

The picket line at University of East Anglia (UEA) on the first day of strikes. Picture: The University and College Union at UEA (@UEA_UCU)

The picket line at University of East Anglia (UEA) on the first day of strikes. Picture: The University and College Union at UEA (@UEA_UCU)

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University staff in Norwich have started strike action in an ongoing row over pensions.

On Thursday, the University of East Anglia (UEA) became one of 65 around the country taking part in the University and College Union (UCU) strikes.

While official figures on the number of those involved will not be confirmed for some time, a spokesperson for the University and College Union (UCU) at UEA said roughly 100 people had been on the picket line.

And they said the university’s branch had seen a swell in membership amid the dispute - while, at the time of the ballot to take action, UEA had 596 UCU members, it is now believed to be at least 700.

The strikes are to continue for another 13 days, which will span a four-week period.

University of East Anglia. Picture: Joakim BorenUniversity of East Anglia. Picture: Joakim Boren

The dispute centres over a proposal which would see the defined benefit element - where staff receive a guaranteed income - replaced by one dependent on market changes.

MORE: Funding ring-fenced to help students affected by strikes beginning at Norwich university

It could, the union says, see a lecturer lose out on £200,000 over their career.

Ben Little, a lecturer at the university and union member, said: “It was a really, really encouraging day. People are quite determined - no-one wants to strike and this isn’t something we wanted to do, but now we are here we want to make sure that we are heard.

“We know it’s the first day and we don’t expect it to be like this every day, but we want to bring employers back to the negotiating table.”

He said there had “almost unanimous” support from students about the action.

The union says it expects one million students to be affected, with hundreds of thousands of teaching hours due to be lost.

Elizabeth Truss, MP for South West Norfolk, tweeted on Thursday morning and said: “Some excellent lecturers *are* going in to work today. I salute you. #committed”

In total, the university has 596 UCU members, though it is not yet clear how many will choose to take action.

UEA vice-chancellor professor David Richardson has said he “absolutely respects” the right of staff to take action, but that his responsibility was to ensure students’ education was unaffected.

He said those who take action know they will forego their pay, money which will be put into a ring-fenced pot for students affected by the decision.

In an interview earlier this week he said that he supported staff’s calls for retention of a defined benefit element.

But he said that, having raised employer contribution to the pension scheme to 18pc, the university could not afford to fund another increase.

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