Students to join lecturers in week of strikes

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The Independent Online

Universities throughout the United Kingdom will be hit by a week of strike action by lecturers and students later this month, forcing the abandonment of thousands of lectures.

Leaders of the Association of University Teachers (AUT) and National Union of Students (NUS) are planning the week-long action in protest at top-up fees and plans to modernise lecturers' pay. The campaign will include a shutdown of all campuses on 25 February, with lecturers and students mounting pickets to stop colleagues taking or going into lectures.

Such large-scale joint action is unprecedented in the history of university industrial relations and is expected to lead to courses closing at least for a day in most universities.

One of its main aims is to persuade enough Labour MPs to rebel during later debates on the Government's Bill allowing universities to charge fees of up to £3,000 a year from 2006 - and kill off the legislation. It only received a five-vote majority at its second reading last week.

The NUS announced its plans yesterday, which include demonstrations in support of the lecturers' pay dispute in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, as well as walkouts over top-up fees, which will only affect English universities.

The AUT will take a final decision over the strikes next Thursday, when it receives results of a nationwide ballot; early indications show a majority in favour of strike action. Under the plan, universities will negotiate their own salary levels with staff - rather than abide by a national pay formula.

Malcolm Keight, deputy general secretary of the AUT, said: "Both schemes would lead to the 'marketisation' of higher education. It is for that reason that the AUT hopes to join the NUS in shutting down the university sector during a week of 'anti-marketisation' action."

Mandy Telford, president of the NUS, said: "Students do not want variable top-up fees and lecturers do not want top-up fees ... Students have no desire to be taught by poorly paid, demotivated lecturers - which is what will happen."