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UK university departments close as three unions join in strike over pay

Widespread impact on universities expected as thousands of staff up and down the country take part in one-day strike



University lecturers and administrative staff are staging their first national strike over pay for seven years. Tens of thousands of people are due to take part in Thursday's one-day walkout, which is expected to cause disruption at institutions across the UK.

The action is being organised by three unions: the University and College Union (UCU), Unison and Unite. Union representatives have said they expect action to be well supported and to have a widespread impact on universities.

It could mean lecturers or tutorials cancelled and possibly whole departments disrupted, as well as affecting support services such as catering, cleaning and security.

The Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA), which represents and negotiates on behalf of institutions and has expressed disappointment at the move, has predicted there will be a "low level impact" on students.

The strike action centres on a 1% pay rise offered to university staff – including lecturers, technicians and administration workers – which the unions insist means there has been a 13% pay cut in real terms since October 2008.

Sally Hunt, UCU general secretary, said: "Staff around the UK are taking strike action to try and reverse some of the most sustained pay cuts since the Second World War. Staff are furious at what has happened to their pay and that is why they feel they've been forced into this action."

Hunt added: "We are already hearing news of closed departments, buildings and some universities' entire teaching for the day. They don't want to be on strike and we hope this action will bring the employers back to the negotiating table to try and resolve the dispute."

Mike McCartney, Unite national officer for education, said: "Our members are taking this action with a heavy heart, but they have endured a five-year pay drought. We are calling for the employers to get around the table urgently so that our members contribution to the prestige and reputation of higher education is recognised."

UCEA has rejected union allegations this week that employers have refused to talk. "We have met repeatedly over the last six months and as recently as last week," a spokesperson said. "Behind the campaign headlines, our trade unions know that pay increases to higher education staff on the pay spine will mean that salary costs in most higher education institutions will actually rise by around 3% this year."

The spokesperson added: "Any industrial action is naturally disappointing. However, with less than 5% of staff voting to support this strike, our institutions tell us that the vast majority of staff understand the reality of the current environment and would not wish to harm their institutions and especially their students."

UCEA said that according to the latest data available to them, 378,250 people work in the sector and of these 29,538 or 7.8% voted from the three unions. Around 17,800 voted in favour of strike action.