Lecturers at top British universities have called for strikes over the next month due to a pensions dispute. An estimated 1 million students will be impacted.
Lecturers at 64 British universities, including Oxford and Cambridge, have begun a two day strike in a dispute over pensions.
University and College Union (UCU) members voted to go on strike over planned changes to the pension system that they said could cut annual benefits for some lecturers by roughly €11,000 ($13,500) per year after retirement.
The union said that the strike would be followed by two longer ones during the next month, spanning a total of 14 days.
An estimated 1 million students could be impacted. More than 70,000 students, some of whom back the strike, have signed petitions demanding reimbursement for lost classes. Tuition fees were introduced in the late 1990s in Britain and the annual cost has since risen by 900 percent for most students.
The union accuses Universities UK, which represents universities, of refusing to budge from their unilateral decision to cut benefits.
Universities UK said rising future pension costs have created a €6.9 billion deficit.
"The cost of future pensions has risen by one-third in the last three years, and the scheme has a deficit of 6.1 billion pounds, which, by law, must be reduced," Universities UK said in a statement. "To meet union demands, employers will have to make cuts to teaching, jobs, and research to move more money into paying pensions. This would harm the high quality of education students currently have and future generations and their parents rightly expect."
Universities UK challenged the union's claim that lecturers would lose around €11,000 a year in benefits once they retire.
Negotiate without preconditions
Sam Gyimah, a Conservative Party MP and Minister for Universities, called on both sides to negotiate without preconditions.
"I am deeply concerned about the impact this strike will have on students, who deserve to receive the education that they are paying for," he said in a statement.
UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said: "I have made it clear from the start of this dispute that this mess can only be resolved by negotiation. We have been calling for talks for weeks either directly or through Acas [Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service], so if UUK are willing to now meet without preconditions with a view to resolving this dispute this good news."
Universities UK said they were "making every effort to minimize the disruption to students" on Thursday and Friday.
The strike has gained support from Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and other lawmakers from his party.