Students have said they are “absolutely furious” that university staff are having to go on strike in a wage and pension dispute.
A University and College Union (UCU) Scotland rally took place on Friday on Buchanan Street steps in Glasgow, where union leaders called for a better pay offer.
Ellie Gomersall, president of the National Union of Students Scotland, said: “The vast majority of students I’ve spoken to have supported the strikes.
“I think students are absolutely furious about these strikes, we’re furious with the vice-chancellors and the ones in charge who are forcing staff to have to go out just to get the pay that they deserve and the conditions and the pension that they have earned.
“We know that if we come out and back these strikes, hopefully, first of all these strikes will be shorter, the longer the picket, the shorter the strike.
“We need to put the pressure on the Government, on the principals, on the university themselves to get round the table and offer the UCU a deal that they can accept.
The UCU has previously turned down a 3% pay increase and has urged employers to bring a new “fair” offer to the table.
The latest action came after 80% of members rejected the latest offer from employers, which the union said is worth only 5% for most UCU members.
More than 30,000 UCU members across the UK responded to the union’s online poll, which was open for four days.
UCU and four other higher education unions – the EIS, GMB, Unison and Unite – will meet employer representatives for further talks on Monday under the auspices of conciliation service Acas.
Mary Senior, Scotland official for UCU, said: “Today is a strike day for 17 universities in Scotland, 150 across the UK.
“They need to address casual contracts, they need to address the unsafe workloads, as well as the gender, race and disability pay gaps in the sector.”
The union is planning a further 15 days of action over February and March.
Speaking at the rally, STUC deputy general secretary Dave Moxham added: “This is the time where I feel that the door is a little bit more open, and when the door is a little bit more open, the trade union movement together have raised their boots and we kick that door in, we need to kick that door in.
“We need to kick the door of those chancellors who have all the benefits of providing a public service.
“We have to kick the door in. We have to make them listen and we will make them listen, you will be doing a lot of that work, but the rest of the movement will be with you too.”
Raj Jethwa, chief executive of the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA), said: “Acas approached both the five trade unions and UCEA, offering their services.
“Following an agreement with trade union negotiators, UCEA will join the Acas-facilitated dispute resolution discussions relating to the attempted early pay uplift for the 2023-24 pay round. The dispute resolution process is an optional added phase of the formal pay round process.
“It is important to remember that UCEA’s offer of an uplift of up to 8%, with a minimum of 5%, is the highest higher education pay offer made in nearly 20 years.
“Many institutions’ finances are severely stretched in the face of falling income and rising costs but are trying to commit to implementing a proportion of this award six months early, as a direct response to current cost-of-living concerns.
“UCEA has agreed to accept Acas’s services as the right thing to do to try and reach a settlement and to meet our original objective of getting an affordable uplift to staff sooner.
“These discussions to try and resolve dispute over the 2023-24 pay round are separate to UCU’s ongoing industrial action which followed a ballot outcome over last year’s (2022-23) pay uplift.”