Ten days of strike action has begun at universities.

Some staff at the universities of Cambridge and Essex, and 42 more universities nationwide, began picketing their workplaces today (February 14).

The strikes are organised by the Universities and Colleges Union (UCU) amid a dispute over pensions, pay and workload.

The union claims that staff could lose 35% of their guaranteed retirement income under a proposed Universities UK pension plan.

UCU members are also concerned about pay, equality, workload, and a rising number of staff on casual, short-term contracts.

But the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) has warned that students who have already faced Covid-19 disruption will be "concerned" by the strikes.

Dunmow Broadcast: Cambridge UCU branch members picket the Sidgwick Site on February 14 amid a dispute over pensions, pay and working conditionsCambridge UCU branch members picket the Sidgwick Site on February 14 amid a dispute over pensions, pay and working conditions (Image: Cambridge UCU)

Dr Jak Peake is the president of the Essex UCU branch.

He protested outside the university's Colchester campus today.

Dr Peake said: "Real-terms wages have fallen steadily since 2009.

"New employees have to worry about whether they can afford a career in academia when they face up to six years on a casual contract."

Dunmow Broadcast: Jak Peake, Essex UCU presidentJak Peake, Essex UCU president (Image: Essex UCU)

Michael Abberton is the president of Cambridge's UCU branch.

He said: "I would lose 41% of my guaranteed retirement income in the proposed model.

"Our time is spread very thinly with the level of workload as it is.

"We are going to end up in a situation where students are disadvantaged because some of the best researchers will have moved away from academia, and those who do teach will not be able to give students the time which they deserve."

The UCEA - which represents higher education employers - said that students will be disadvantaged.

Raj Jethwa, UCEA chief executive, said: "Higher education institutions have a duty to their students.

"This is a disappointing response from UCU and will be of concern to students already facing disruption from UCU's latest action."

He urged union members to engage in a set of negotiations which will take place in March.

The strikes will take place over 10 days between now and Wednesday, March 2.

There will also be strikes at Writtle University College, Chelmsford and 23 more universities from February 21, bringing the total number of striking institutions to 68.