25 / 05 / 20

For Students - Frequently Asked Questions about Industrial Action

We will update these FAQs when more information becomes available.

Why is this dispute happening?

In November 2019, the University and College Union (UCU), which represents over 120,000 academics, lecturers, researchers and administrators in UK universities, balloted its members in two separate ballots covering pensions and pay and conditions.

Further information on the background to the dispute can be found in the following documents:

What has the University done to resolve this dispute?

The University is doing everything that it can to support the negotiations that are continuing both nationally and locally to avoid further strikes. 

In addition to engaging with local UCU representatives, the University has been working with national bodies Universities UK (UUK) and the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) in relation to the pensions dispute and with the University and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) in relation to the pay and conditions dispute.


Universities UK are negotiating at a national level to try and find a resolution to the dispute over pensions.

Senior representatives from Universities UK (UUK), UCU and the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) have met six times (one informal meeting, followed by five formal meetings) to discuss reforms to the USS pension scheme, totalling around 18 hours of talks, in January 2020. 

These talks have been constructive and focussed on building a common understanding on the future of the scheme, the 2020 valuation and governance issues.  The encouraging progress has been shared in jointly published statements, which are available on the USS Employers News page and also on the USS Joint Expert Panel website.

Pay and conditions

The dispute around pay and conditions is being negotiated at a national level with Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA).

On 27 January 2020 UCEA announced new modified proposals in the hope that this might conclude the 2019-20 pay round and enable the conclusion of the UCU dispute over issues relating to pay and equality.   This followed two months of constructive dialogue with UCU.

The proposals address important issues around employment in universities, focusing on casual employment, workload/mental health and gender pay gaps/ethnicity pay. The plans set out a series of expectations of HE institutions around the three topics, a lot of which are already happening. They also make clear that employees and their representatives should be included and listened to.  A summary leaflet and full details of the proposal are now available.

Local activity

A Head of Unit Forum took place on 7 February with our campus unions (USS, UNITE and UNISON). The Forum explored ideas on how the University can address the issue of casualisation. 

We will also be continuing to address issues around gender pay equality and carry on ​the work of the Workload Allocation Model Task and Finish Group.

When will the proposed Industrial Action take place?

On 3 February 2020 the University and College Union (UCU), announced a further fourteen days of industrial action starting on Thursday 20 February. The full strike days are:

  • Week one - Thursday 20 and Friday 21 February (2 days)
  • Week two - Monday 24, Tuesday 25 and Wednesday 26 February (3 days)
  • Week three - Monday 2, Tuesday 3, Wednesday 4 and Thursday 5 March (4 days)
  • Week four - Monday 9, Tuesday 10, Wednesday 11, Thursday 12 and Friday 13 March (5 days)

Eight days of strike action took place during November and December 2019:

Monday 25 November – Friday 29 November (5 consecutive days)
Monday 2 December – Wednesday 4 December (3 consecutive days)

What is the University doing to minimise the impact on students?

The University is working hard to reduce any negative impact that industrial action may have on our students.

At its meeting on 20 November, University Senate (the body which oversees academic matters for the University) formally agreed that the potential industrial action constitutes an emergency situation. This decision allows Emergency Guidance  to be used for programme delivery and assessment where disruption has occurred, and for any further disruption until the end of the academic year.

The Emergency Guidance covers the arrangements to deal with the impact of the strikes in terms of teaching, supervision, provision of subject information and potential loss of learning opportunities.

The emphasis in the Emergency Guidance is to ensure fair treatment of all students to maintain academic standards and to protect those affected by the industrial action from detriment in terms of their academic progress and achievements. The Guidance enables the University to take a number of steps to take account of the impact of the emergency situation as they affect individuals and/or groups of students, including:

  • considering alternative ways to enable students to achieve the learning outcomes of their programme if classes cannot be rescheduled (this might include provision of materials in alternative formats, supported self-study, online materials or other options)
  • further adjustments to submission or feedback deadlines
  • determining which subject topics could reasonably be included in assessments and examinations, to reflect the impact of the strike action
  • considering alternative forms or revised schedules of assessment where appropriate, taking into account any practical constraints
  • making appropriate decisions about progress to the next stage, or degree classifications, with an understanding of the impact of the emergency (including progression and assessment arrangements for postgraduate research students). This includes the use of discretion by Boards of Examiners in taking account of overall performance.

Will my school be affected by strike action?

Not all members of staff will take part in the strike action and many teaching and assessment sessions and postgraduate research (PGR) supervision meetings will go ahead as planned.

People Services (our HR department) will write to all colleagues in advance of the industrial action asking them to declare if they will be taking action so that we can put in place measures to minimise the impact on students. However, colleagues are not obliged to inform the University of their intention to participate in advance of the action, but they must do so afterwards if requested. You can ask your lecturers/tutors/supervisors if they intend to participate in the industrial action however, please be aware, they are not obliged to tell you.

If you are not informed that a session or supervision meeting has been cancelled or postponed you should assume it will take place and attend as normal.

What should I do if I feel the strike action has had a serious detrimental impact on my studies or my assessments?

The University is making every effort to minimise the impact on students of the industrial action. Your school will know which modules will have been affected. However, if you consider that the strike action has significantly disrupted your studies there will be an online Industrial Action Impact Form available once the industrial action has concluded, which you can complete to advise your school of this.  Please ensure you keep a record of your experiences during the industrial action and include this information on the Industrial Action Impact Form submission.

At the end of the academic year, if you believe that the strike action has had a disproportionate detrimental impact on you, which has not been addressed or mitigated by alternative arrangements in your School, the University has a Student Complaints and Resolution Procedure through which you would be able to submit a complaint if appropriate.

Alternatively, if you feel you have grounds for a review of an academic decision on progression or award you can follow the Student Academic Queries and Appeals Procedure.

If you have completed the University’s Student Complaints and Resolution Procedure or Student Academic Queries and Appeals Procedure and you are still unhappy with the outcome, you have the right to make a complaint to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education (the OIA). The OIA is an ombudsman scheme which looks at whether a higher education provider has fair procedures, whether it has followed those procedures correctly, and whether the outcome for the student is reasonable.

The OIA has published guidance about its approach to complaints by students affected by the industrial action. There is no charge to students for lodging a complaint with the OIA.

If my classes are cancelled and not re-scheduled, how can I be assessed on my knowledge in the end of year examinations?

Your school will know the modules that have been affected by strike action. This will enable them to determine which topics could reasonably be included in assessments and examinations, to reflect the impact of the strike action.

What if my supervisor does not attend a meeting on my dissertation or final year project due to industrial action?

If you arrived for a scheduled meeting with your dissertation or final year project supervisor and they were not there and you think that this will affect your work please include this on you Industrial Action Impact Form submission.  Your school will consider the impact of missed supervision and will ensure you are informed of any adjustment made as a result of this.

Will students be entitled to an extension for their dissertations or other submission of work if the deadline falls within the strike period?

Unless informed of a change to a specific assessment hand-in date, students should assume the original submission date applies.

If, however, you believe your ability to submit your work on time has been impacted by the industrial action, in accordance with the standard process, you can request an urgent extension by completing a Personal Extenuating Circumstances (PEC) form for your school to consider.

If you do not require an adjustment to an assessment deadline but need to inform your school of significant disruption to your studies caused by the industrial action, please use the Industrial Action Impact Form.

Your school will consider submissions received via the Industrial Action Impact Form to determine whether any individual discretion needs to be considered or adjustments made for the cohort as a whole. Any appropriate discretion will be considered at the end of the semester or academic year, as appropriate.

What if my postgraduate research (PGR) supervisor does not attend a supervisory meeting due to industrial action?

If you arrived for a scheduled meeting with your PGR supervisor and they were not there and you think that this will affect the progress of your research project, please include this on your Industrial Action Impact Form submission. Your Dean of Postgraduate Studies will consider the impact of missed supervision and decide on relevant action, which will be communicated to you by your Graduate School Office.

I am a research student and my thesis submission deadline is approaching, do I still need to submit my thesis by my deadline and will it be examined?

You should complete and submit your thesis as normal, unless you are told otherwise by your Graduate School.

I am a postgraduate research student and my viva is scheduled to take place during the industrial action – will it go ahead?

Please check with your School office or your Graduate School to confirm the arrangements for your viva.

How will the strike action affect PGR students who also teach?

If you have any previously arranged teaching sessions during any period of Industrial Action, please check with the School/Institute office who organised these sessions to confirm the arrangements.

As a PGR student, the module information you require on the Industrial Action Impact Form is not relevant for me? What do I do?

Please complete all sections which are relevant to your studies and use the free text comments box to explain the nature of the disruption that you’ve experienced.

Which form should I use to notify my school of issues that have affected me during the industrial action?

Here we set out the different circumstances in which the available forms should be used:

Personal Extenuating Circumstances (PEC) Form (via S3P) - not for MPhil or Doctoral students

  • Used to request an immediate adjustment in advance of the assessment deadline, due to significant personal circumstances or as a result of the industrial action (eg an extension to a submission deadline)
  • Outcome notified within usual PEC timescales
  • Outcome applied on an individual basis
  • Outcome notified by School Office

Industrial Action Impact Form

  • Used to record significant disruption to studies caused by industrial action for consideration at a future date (eg following examination periods)
  • Outcome considered either individually or on a cohort basis at the end of the semester or the academic year, as appropriate
  • Form will be made available following the conclusion of the industrial action

Notification of Absence Form (via S3P)

  • Used to request an individual approval of absence due to ill health or significant personal circumstances
  • Not to be used for absence due to sessions cancelled as a result of the industrial action
  • Not to be used if students choose not to attend academic events
  • Outcome notified by School office, individually, in the usual way

Mitigating Circumstances Form (via ePortfolio) for MPhil and Doctoral students

  • Used to request an adjustment to deadlines due to significant personal circumstances, or as a result of the industrial action (eg extension to thesis submission deadline, or Annual Progress Review deadline, etc)
  • Outcome applied on an individual basis
  • Outcome notified by Graduate School Office

Will my work be marked if lecturers are on strike? Do I still need to submit my work for marking?

You should complete and submit your work assignments as normal, unless you are told otherwise by your lecturer/tutor.

I am a final year student - will I still be able to graduate at this year’s congregations?

Congregation ceremonies will go ahead as planned.

What support arrangements will be available to students during the industrial action?

A number of the support services within the University are offering extended services or opening hours during the period of industrial action for students who find their studies are affected. Please consult the Mitigating Activities for Students webpage for full details.

I am investing a lot of money in my university education. Will I be entitled to a refund of my fees if my lectures or classes are cancelled?

We recognise that our students invest a lot of money in their university education and we work hard to provide them with the best education and opportunities to help them achieve their full potential and go on to have successful and fulfilling careers.

The fee which students pay is a composite fee covering all aspects of the provision to students (not just a ‘cost per class’) and is based on delivery of the overall learning outcomes for students in any given programme. These are delivered and accessed in a variety of ways. We are introducing a series of measures designed to minimise the impact of strike action on teaching and learning and assessment.

The University will not be offering any routine compensation or refunds to students in respect of the industrial action. Students who consider that they have been treated unfairly as a result of the industrial action and who feel that their concerns, as raised through the Industrial Action Impact Form, have not been suitably addressed, may then raise these issues through Level 2 of the Student Complaints and Resolution Procedure. This procedure requires submission of full documentary evidence to support the case. Complaints will be dealt with on a case by case basis, in accordance with the procedure.

As an international student, do I still need to ask for permission if I want to return to my home country during the strike period? What are the implications for my visa?

The industrial action does not change the normal requirements for compliance in terms of your Tier 4 study visa.

If a class is cancelled in advance, do students still log their attendance (recognising that the cancellation may come direct from their lecturer or via the school office).

If the class is running as usual, you should continue to record your attendance and/or request permission for absences in the normal way. We will know which modules have been affected and will be able to give approved absences for all students on affected modules for the period of the industrial action. This will mitigate the impact of the industrial action for student’s attendance monitoring and statistics/reports.

If you are an international student the industrial action does not change the normal requirements for compliance in terms of your Tier 4 study visa.  However, if a class is cancelled as a result of strike action, international students do not need to record their attendance.

Why can’t the University stop its colleagues going on strike?

On 20 November the Vice-Chancellor sent a letter to colleagues which provides further information about the background to this current dispute and sets out the University’s position.

The University acknowledges the right of people to take part in lawful industrial action. At the same time, it is concerned that any industrial action could negatively affect the experience of our students.

The strike action is a national issue, and not one that can be resolved within or by the University. We are working with Universities UK, the body representing higher education employers, to engage in discussions with the union in the hope of a positive outcome.

Why does the University withhold the pay of colleagues who are striking?

It is normal practice for any organisation, including universities, to withhold pay from colleagues who take strike action. This is because, on the strike days, they are not meeting the terms of their contract of employment. This approach is being followed by all universities affected by the strike action. However, the University is ensuring that colleagues’ pension rights are protected during the period of industrial action.

What is the actual breakdown of the £9,250 fee that a student pays to the University each year by UK students?

Whilst we don’t have information on an individual student tuition fee basis, an infographic is available on the Transparency website, which shows how student tuition fees contribute to the University’s overall income and a second infographic shows how this income is spent.

Shouldn’t any pay withheld from colleagues who strike be used to compensate students for loss of classes?

The Students’ Union (NUSU), as the representative body for our students, will be consulted about how best to use pay withheld from colleagues involved in strike action. As in previous years, the discussion about this issue will reflect the principle that the money should be used to support the student experience and initiatives that directly benefit students.

If you have questions about the strike action, who should you contact?

We will keep you informed of any developments that may affect you. If you have any questions or comments in the meantime, use this form to contact Lucy Backhurst, Academic Registrar.

Lucy Backhurst, Academic Registrar

Updated 11 February 2020

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Industrial Action by University Colleagues