UK university workers have backed strike action in two ballots over pensions and pay and working conditions, the University and College Union (UCU) has announced.
More than a million students at 56 institutions could be affected by walkouts over pay and conditions, the union said.
A separate ballot on pensions reforms is set to lead to industrial action at 43 universities and colleges across the UK.
UCU said the ballot results reflect the unhappiness and anger of members.
Responding to the outcome of the pensions ballot, Universities UK (UUK), which represents employers, said industrial action would be damaging for staff and students.
The pensions ballot was over changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), which UCU says will leave members paying in more and receiving less in retirement.
The union said it balloted more than 52,000 USS members in 69 universities for strike action.
According to today’s ballot result, overall turnout was 53%.
A total of 41 institutions met the legal 50% turnout threshold required for walkouts, UCU said. This rule does not apply to Queen’s University Belfast or Ulster University, where UCU members took part.
It means that, based on the results so far, 43 institutions could take to picket lines over pensions reforms.
This would affect almost a million students, UCU said.
The second ballot, over pay and working conditions, involved UCU members at 147 universities.
UCU said overall turnout for this ballot was 49%, with 54 institutions meeting the 50% turnout threshold required for strike action. Again, this rule does not apply to Queen’s University Belfast and Ulster University, the union said.
It means that based on results so far, 56 universities and colleges could stage walkouts, which could potentially affect more than a million students.
UCU’s higher education committee will meet tomorrow to decide next steps.
UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: ‘The results can only be interpreted as clear support for strike action over pensions, pay and working conditions.
“The ballots reflect just how unhappy and angry staff are at the state of higher education in the UK.”
She added: “Universities now have to come back to us prepared to work seriously to address these problems. If they choose to ignore this message from their staff then strike action looks inevitable.”
On pensions, a UUK spokesman said: “Employers remain open to further talks with UCU to discuss how the dispute can be resolved without industrial action, which would be damaging for staff and students.
“Recent negotiations between UCU and Universities UK concluded with no cuts to USS pension benefits, and employers paying the majority of the extra contributions required under pensions law. In a challenging economic environment, this outcome is the best that could be achieved. Crucially, it is acceptable to both the USS Trustee and The Pensions Regulator.”
A number of other unions have been balloting university members over pay and conditions, with two others, Unison and EIS announcing they have not met the 50% threshold required under trade union laws.
UCEA, which represents employers in the pay and working conditions row, said it saw “low turnouts in the unions’ ballots of their members as a clear indication that the great majority of university union members as well as wider higher education employees understand the financial realities for their institution”.
A spokesman said that while UCU members in institutions that met the threshold “could technically be asked to strike against their individual institution, this would be causing damage to both union members and to students in an unrealistic attempt to force all 147 employers to re-open the concluded 2019-20 national pay round and improve on an outcome that is for most of these institutions already at the very limit of what is affordable”.