Up to 6000 staff at 10 Scottish universities are starting a three-day strike.
Members of the University and College Union (UCU) Scotland voted to strike from Wednesday to Friday in a dispute about falling pay, pension cuts and “worsening working conditions”.
The staff, on picket lines outside main university entrances, join colleagues at 58 universities across the UK taking similar action.
Last month UCU members at the 10 Scottish institutions backed a strike in two separate ballots, one about pension cuts and one about pay.
UCU claims employers have misled staff over the size of pension cuts and rejected the union’s demands to address falling pay and worsening working conditions.
Staff at seven universities – Heriot Watt, Dundee, Stirling, Edinburgh, Glasgow, St Andrews and the Open University in Scotland – will strike over both pay and pensions.
Staff at Edinburgh Napier, Glasgow School of Art and Queen Margaret University will take action on pay only.
This week, UCU said Universities UK (UUK) had misled staff and vice chancellors about the scale of the cuts it was pushing through.
According to the the union, UUK had repeatedly said its cuts to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) pension would lead to staff pensions being cut by 10% to 18%.
However, the USS trustees’ own modelling shows that a typical member will see a 36% cut.
The union said staff pay has fallen by 20% after 12 years of below-inflation pay offers while almost 90,000 academic and academic-related staff are on insecure contracts.
UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: “It is deeply regrettable that staff have been forced into taking industrial action again, but sadly university bosses have shown little interest in negotiating in good faith and addressing the serious concerns of staff over falling pay, massive pension cuts, equality pay gaps and the rampant use of insecure contracts.
“The truth is that staff are asking for the bare minimum.
“But sadly, the only time vice chancellors and principals seem to listen is when staff take action, and those leading our universities should not underestimate their determination to change this sector for the better.”
In a statement a UUK spokesperson said: “It is deeply frustrating to be facing industrial action over USS pensions.
“Only one in four USS scheme members are UCU members.
“Out of 50,000 ballots mailed out, only 20,000 were cast in favour of strike action. This puts support for pensions strikes among UCU members at 40%, which accounts for less than 10% of the 203,000 active scheme members in USS.
“Nonetheless, UUK repeatedly offered to share alternative proposals with employers, and that offer remains.
“We wrote to UCU on September 7 to clarify this, but to date we have received no reply.”
The UCU says the action will escalate in the new year if employers continue to ignore staff demands.