UCU Strike Action: Student FAQs

Wednesday 21-02-2018 - 09:14
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You have no doubt heard about the upcoming UCU strike action. Here are some of your questions answered. We will update this page with any new info during the strike period. (updated 21/02/2018)

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)

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 is in contact with both the Vice-Chancellor and Marek Szablewski, Vice-President of Durham UCU, to ensure students are communicated with regarding the strikes, and that their interests are taken into account. A statement from Marek will be read at Assembly on 8 February.

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 who 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.

Current 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:

  • We seek to ensure that all students receive the necessary education and support to enable them to meet the learning outcomes of their programme of study;
  • We will pursue all available options to minimise disruption to our students;
  • We are working with academic staff to develop policies and procedures that meet these objectives;
  • We will ensure that these policies and procedures are consistently applied;
  • During the strike all college and departmental offices and central services will be open as usual.

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.

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.

Durham SU will keep in contact with the University and UCU to keep students updated with any contingency plans or new information.

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?

Our President has heard a significant amount from students concerned about this and wishing to pursue refunds. Next week she will meet with the Pro Vice Chancellor Education to get a clear answer on how students can make complaints or pursue refunds, so that the SU can develop resources to support individuals in the process, as these consumer rights would be addressed at the individual level.

In the meantime, 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: vice.chancellor@durham.ac.uk.

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.

3. Complaints
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:

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.

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.

4. Updates
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.

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