Lecturers who are going on strike have been warned by two universities they could be facing legal action and be held partly responsible for student failures because of their action.
The universities, City University, London and Reading University, have warned staff in emails seen by one national newspaper that they will be liable for any damages should students sue the university for breach of contract.
The University and College Union (UCU) says the threats by the universities are akin to ‘bullying’.
The strike action by lecturers at 61 universities is set to begin over a bitter dispute for their pensions.
Around 1 million students could be affected by the industrial action.
Seriously disrupted by the lecturer strikes
The union is warning that the end of year exams for students could be seriously disrupted by the lecturer strikes in the summer unless the pensions dispute is resolved.
Lecturers are planning 14 days of action and the UCU’s general secretary, Sally Hunt, says the walkouts are set to end on March 16 but may continue if there is no solution into the exam period.
Ms Hunt said: “I’m upfront about this because employers, I think, have the ability to do something.
“All we’ve seen is a discussion that they are going to dumb down some degree results as a way to deal with this and saying they will not include questions on subjects that may not have been covered during any action.”
Exams may not be taking place if negotiators do not return to the table
She warned that universities need to understand that the exams may not take place if negotiators do not return for talks.
The strike action comes over changes to lecturers’ pensions in the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS).
The union’s higher education committee says it will decide in early March whether their strike action should continue in July which will not only disrupt exams but also graduate ceremonies as well.
The union says thousands of students have already called for compensation because of teaching hours lost from striking lecturers.
Ms Hunt says that students looking to sue universities is not the answer and added: “I think when students are charged more than £9,000 and that they are a customer this was likely to happen.
“If I was a student I’d be upset with things and I understand totally why students are saying this.”
‘Lecturers’ strike will cause a huge amount of disruption’
One University of Manchester student has created a petition urging compensation and she told a national newspaper: “The lecturers’ strike will cause huge disruption.
“Students with dissertations due will, for weeks, lose their academic supervisors. Students with coursework due when the strike is on will teach ourselves the module.”
The petition organiser also lamented the fact that lecturers do not know at this point how long their strike will run and her petition has recorded more than 4,000 signatures.
The National Union of Students’ president, Shakira Martin, said: “If there are more strikes it shows how urgent negotiators should get round the table to agree a fair deal.”
USS pension scheme has a £6.1 billion deficit
A spokesman for Universities UK says: “There’s a £6.1bn deficit in the USS pension scheme and the future benefit costs have increased by a third since 2014.
“To maintain the current benefits, the contributions have to increase by £1 billion approximately every year.”
He added: “We hope that lecturers will recognise that change is necessary so the scheme is on a secure footing and the proposed strikes will serve only to disrupt students education unfairly.”