Strikes: your questions answered

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Why are staff striking?

The UCU is striking to protest upcoming changes to the University Superannuation Scheme (USS), the sector’s principal pension benefit provider.

They state that under the proposals, the guaranteed retirement income for the typical member (a 37-year-old lecturer) will be reduced by 35% and limit protection from inflation.

The UCU also called the strikes as part of its “four fights” campaign which aims to combat casualisation, racial and gender inequalities, rising workloads, and below-inflation pay offers.

When are lecturers striking?

Wednesday, 1st December to Friday, 3rd December. 58 institutions across the country are taking part.

What to expect from the strikes?

The strike is expected to involve all staff who are members of the University and College Union (UCU). Staff that take part will not set cover work or reschedule missed classes, as this contravenes the UCU’s strike policy. In previous years, staff have held protests and teach-outs and set up picket lines across campus during strike days.

Students will be expected to attend all lectures and tutorials taught by non-striking members of staff and to meet deadlines as usual. Any lectures, classes, or tutorials missed by students striking in solidarity with their teaching staff will be considered an absence and will be dealt with by their department.

What if nothing changes as a result of the December strikes?

Should Universities UK and other employer bodies refuse to meet demands, the UCU intends to escalate its campaign, meaning universities would be likely to see more extensive strike action next year. Changes to the pension scheme are expected to be confirmed in February 2022 and come into force in April if staff protest efforts are unsuccessful, meaning strike action will likely be held early next term.

Will I be compensated?

Whilst the University has not fully confirmed whether students will be offered any form of compensation for teaching time lost during the fourth round of strikes in four years, in previous years this has not been the case.

In the year 2019-20 students were not offered compensation unless it was deemed that their “learning outcomes” had not been met. The University currently states on its website that “tuition fees contribute to a whole university experience and are not directly linked to specific contact or teaching hours”.

Will disruption be considered when it comes to assessments?

The University has stated that it is “too early to know the impact of the strike on specific modules” but has assured students that it will be working to ensure students are not disadvantaged in assessments and that all evaluations remain “fair, consistent and transparent”.

What have strikes achieved in the past?

University staff previously went on strike in 2018, 2019, and early 2020 over similar concerns including staff casualisation and cuts to pensions. In the largest show of action in spring 2020, nationally up to 50,000 staff walked out for a total of 14 days of action, affecting an estimated 1.2 million students.

Though the pandemic made it difficult to judge the exact impact of these strikes, industrial action in 2018 helped overturn proposals to scrap defined benefit pensions.

More recently in Durham, the University scrapped nine-month contracts following the 2019-2020 period of strike action, pledging to a minimum of 12 months for future fixed-term contracts and in doing so, providing academic staff on precarious short-term employment arrangements greater financial and professional stability.

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