UPDATE: UCU members agreed to accept the employers' USS proposal on 13th April 2018, with 64% voting in favor of the deal. This means that no further strikes will be taking place in Durham and that exam/marking periods will be going ahead as planned.
UCU General Secretary, Sally Hunt, has written to members outlining the position that 'In line with the decision of members the union will suspend its immediate industrial action plans but keep their legal strike mandate live until the agreement between UCU and UUK is noted by USS.' To avoid confusion, all currently planned industrial action is suspended and striking staff will be returning to work as normal. UCU and UUK now need to work on creating a joint panel, that both sides approve of, so that a long-term solution can be reached on the issue of the USS pension scheme.
For more information and updates, head to the UCU website: https://www.ucu.org.uk/
Who are UCU and why are they striking?
UCU stands for the University and College Union, which represents over 110,000 academics, lecturers, trainers, instructors, researchers, managers, administrators, computer staff, librarians and postgraduates in universities, colleges, prisons, adult education and training organisations across the UK.
The dispute centres on UUK's (Universities UK) proposals to end the defined benefit element of the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) pension scheme. UCU says this would leave a typical lecturer almost £10,000 a year worse off in retirement than under the current set-up.
Who is the dispute between?
The dispute is not specific to Durham. It is a national dispute between UCU, (a Trade Union which represents academic and senior support staff) and USS (the principal and largest private pension scheme for universities and other higher education institutions in the UK). Negotiations have been taking place nationally.
When will the strikes take place?
UCU has written to the 61 universities to inform them of an escalating wave of strikes over a four-week period that will begin with a five-day walkout either side of a weekend. The strike dates are:
Week one: Thursday 22 and Friday 23 February (two days)
Week two: Monday 26, Tuesday 27 and Wednesday 28 February (three days)
Week three: Monday 5, Tuesday 6, Wednesday 7 and Thursday 8 March (four days)
Week four: Monday 12, Tuesday 13, Wednesday 14, Thursday 15 and Friday 16 March (five days)
On March 8th 2018, UCU sanctioned a further 14 days of strike action to take place around exam time, if the pension dispute is not resolved. UCU states that the initial wave of strike action has brought Universities UK back to the negotiating table however and that both sides are now in talks through the conciliation service Acas. You can find out more information from UCU here.
What is the Durham SU policy on the strike action?
Read our policy blurb and find a link to the policy here.
What is Durham SU doing to support students during this period?
Durham SU President, Megan Croll, has been in contact with Marek Szablewski (UCU representative from Durham) throughout the strikes, to ensure that students are communicated with regarding the strikes and that their interests are taken into account.
Megan has also been in regular contact with Alan Houston (PVC Education) to ensure students’ concerns over the impact on the strike on their teaching hours, assessments and exams are heard.
Alan agreed to work with departments to establish what is meant by ‘taught’ content and has published a statement outlining the basic principle that “students will not be examined or assessed on material that has not been taught”. A link to the full statement can be found here
How will the strike affect students?
At Durham, 489 out of 853 UCU members took part in the ballot over strike action. 88.1% of those voted supported strike action. Striking members of staff will not work on the striking dates. This means some of your lectures, seminars and other academic commitments may be cancelled.
Advice from the University is that students act on the assumption that classes will be held as scheduled and that assessments can be submitted as usual. Some lecturers, however, may choose to inform their students individually that they are striking.
The Vice-Chancellor has also sent an email to students with the following affirmations:
On the 15 February, the University issued a statement expressing their inability to address the dispute internally and encouraging a return to discussions on a national level. They have also issued a policy explaining their procedures for mitigating disruption to students. You can find these both here. You may have already received specific communication from your department, but this information is intended to be a university-wide blanket policy.
On March 5th, the University released a statement to students updating them on the examination policy. It stated that “No student will be tested on material affected by the strike. Mitigations such as posting lecture notes on DUO, are sufficient to ensure that learning outcomes are met, but not sufficient for examination. Students will be responsible for learning material covered through mitigations, but they will not be tested by examination on it”. A link to the full statement can be found here.
If you feel work you have completed towards assessments has been seriously negatively impacted by the strike action, you can find information here about Academic Appeals and the Serious Adverse Circumstances form.
Will a list of cancelled classes be released?
The University cannot know which members of staff will be striking until it happens, so it will not be possible to collate a comprehensive list of cancelled classes. Certain striking members of staff, however, may choose to communicate personally to students that they are striking, so keep an eye on your emails.
Will I be able to hand in my dissertation?
Yes. We have been assured that departmental offices will be open for you to hand in your dissertation.
My studies are impacted by the strike, what can I do?
If you feel your education has been, or will be, significantly impacted by the strike action, there are a number of things you can do.
1. Voice your concerns
If you have concerns about the strike you can write to the Vice-Chancellor, Stuart Corbridge, directly: firstname.lastname@example.org.
UCU have also developed a helpful tool that you can use to contact the University and ask them to avoid the strikes, and the impact to your education, by resuming negotiations. You can find further information and advice for students from UCU here and the University’s ‘Policy to Mitigate the Impact on Students of the UCU Strike Action’ here.
2. Appeals/Serious Adverse Circumstances
If your academic performance (i.e. ability to complete course work, performance in an exam or general ability to study) is negatively affected by external factors outside of your control, there are things you can to do. You have the right to ask for those external factors to be taken into consideration when your University work is being assessed.
If you feel that your academic performance is, or has been, negatively impacted by the strike action, you may want to go down the route of applying for ‘serious adverse circumstances’ to be taken into consideration during your assessment. You should speak to your academic adviser in the first instance for guidance on how to go about this and help in completing the form. You can also find the University’s information on ‘serious adverse circumstances’ and the process for completing a form here.
If you want to raise the issue more formally to the University, and seek redress, you can also submit a complaint. The University expects complaints to be raised within 28 days of the issue arising. They will also expect that you will have raised the complaint informally first, before going down the route of a formal complaint. Here is some information on both options:
A) How to raise an informal complaint: If you wish to complain about the impact of industrial action, you should first approach your academic adviser or another trusted person in your department to raise the issue. There may be things your adviser can do to help you with your complaint at the department level. You should keep records of any informal process that you follow.
B) How to submit a formal complaint: If you would like to escalate your complaint further, you can fill in the University’s complaints form which can be found here. There are no restrictions on what students can and cannot complain about. You need to include your grounds for complaint and any University regulations that you feel have been broken, which have resulted in this complaint. All guidance from the University on completing the complaints procedure can be found here.
You can keep yourself updated about the strike action in a number of ways:
• UCU - through their website locally and nationally
• Durham University – check dialogue and any all-student emails for information about disruption to your timetables
• Durham SU – we are keeping this FAQ page up to date with information as it arises so keep checking back
I want to support UCU, what can I do to help?
Students wishing to support UCU can make a choice not to cross the picket lines. These will be boundaries set up by striking workers at the entrance to their workplace, and will be at all entrances on the Science site, Elvet Riverside and some departments. You can do academic work at home, in a café or a public library instead. Students may also stand near picket lines, but will not be legally recognised as official pickets. Talk to your tutors, lecturers and supervisors to understand why they are striking. You can express your support of staff in a letter to the Vice-Chancellor, or use this tool to contact the University directly through UCU, asking the University to avoid the strikes, and the impact to your education, by resuming negotiations.
You can find further information and advice for students from UCU here.
What will happen to any wages deducted from UCU members who are striking?
Wages deducted from Durham staff, who are striking will, at their request, be paid into a student hardship fund.
Will PGRs be expected to provide cover for striking academics?
No. We have been assured this will not happen.
I’m a postgraduate student who teaches, how do I strike?
Find FAQs for those striking here.