UCU Strikes: University and SU Joint Statement

Monday 25-11-2019 - 08:48

The University of Manchester Students’ Union and the University’s joint statement on UCU Strikes.

The University of Manchester Students’ Union Exec Team and the University of Manchester Senior Leadership team hold regular meetings to ensure the voices of students are heard consistently around a whole range of issues. Recent discussions have been focused on the forthcoming UCU industrial action.

While the University and the Students’ Union do not agree on every aspect of the current situation, we stand together in our determination to ensure that the impact on current students is minimised. Many students will never have experienced industrial action, and so clear communication is important throughout this period of uncertainty, hence this joint communication. We will continue to discuss the impacts of prolonged industrial action to make sure that students’ voices and opinions are heard at the highest level of the University and treated with the urgency they require. We will provide further updates on those discussions to keep communication and our stances clear, and will continue to work together wherever possible.

The Students’ Union and the University have confirmed the following principles for the upcoming strike action from Monday 25th November to 4th December 2019:

  1. Our key priority is that the industrial action will not prevent students from graduating or progressing to the next academic year, and we are committed to taking actions separately and together to ensure it does not do so;
  2. Where possible (and subject to awarding body requirements), no student will be assessed on teaching content missed during the strike action, unless that content is made up in an accessible way;
  3. The University has re-confirmed that it will not benefit financially from the strikes. The money withheld from staff salaries will be reinvested into benefiting students in the following areas:
    1. Additional investment into disability and student support services
    2. Additional funding for scholarships for financially disadvantaged students
    3. A series of student-led sustainability initiatives.
  4. The University and the Students’ Union leadership will reconvene to relook at these principles if the strike goes beyond the stipulated date above.

We want to assure you of our commitment to ensuring that students are not unfairly disadvantaged by the strike action.  If any student remains dissatisfied, there are established appeal and complaint procedures that your school or the Students’ Union advice centre can advise you on. Model documents for this are available on the Students’ Union website, and there are also FAQs which will continue to be updated on MyManchester.

Kwame Kwarteng                                                            Professor April McMahon

General Secretary                                                           Vice President (Teaching, Learning & Students)

University of Manchester Students’ Union                University of Manchester

Accordian left What is a Trade Union? Find more...

An organisation that employees of a certain profession can join for representation and political bargaining (this is different to an SU. SUs are Charities, not Trade Unions).

Accordian left What is a strike? Find more...

A strike is a period of time where employees decide not to come into work in protest about a particular aspect about their employment. They do not get paid whilst on strike. Strikes are often referred to as ‘industrial action’.

Accordian left What is a picket line? Find more...

A picket line is a boundary established by workers on strike – often at the entrance to their workplace – which others are asked not to cross.

Accordian left What is the University and College Union (UCU)? Find more...

The University and College Union (UCU) 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.

Accordian left What have UCU said about the strikes? Find more...

On the 5th of November, UCU announced that “Sixty UK universities will be hit with eight days of strike action from Monday 25 November to Wednesday 4 December…

UCU general secretary Jo Grady told members 'I am serious about using the powerful mandate you have given the union to get round the negotiating table and achieving a meaningful, lasting resolution'”.

You can read Jo Grady’s full announcement of the industrial action here.

You can also read UCU and NUS’ joint statement published on the 30th of September here or below in the NUS section.

Whereas in 2017 there was 1 legal dispute over pensions that resulted in the strikes, this year there are 2 legal disputes. One over pensions again, and the other over pay and conditions.

Accordian left What are UCU striking about? Find more...

Legal dispute #1: Pay and Working Conditions. What’s the issue?

Pay: “Findings from the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) show that the pay of staff has dropped by around 17% in real-terms since 2009”.

However “UCU said it was shocked and disappointed that UCEA has tried to spin the findings to suggest pay has not fallen so sharply. In its presentation of the data, UCEA has chosen to show findings only from 2013 and cherry picked the information used to calculate the figures.”

You can read UCU’s perspective further here.

Working Conditions: UCU’s concern about working conditions includes 3 factors:

Casualisation: the transformation of a workforce from largely employed on secure permanent contracts to short-term or casual contract
You can read the “Counting the costs of casualization in higher education” report by UCU here.

Workload: “Staff in higher and further education work on average more than two days unpaid each week. Workload is unmanageable and unsustainable for most staff.”.

You can read more from UCU on this here.

Gender pay gap: “In 2018 university leaders came under fire after the first official gender pay gap data showed that women in UK universities were paid a mean hourly wage that was, on average, 15.9 per cent lower than their male colleagues.”

You can read more from UCU on this here.

Legal dispute #2: Pensions – USS Scheme. What’s the issue?

Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) is one of the largest private pension schemes in the UK and is the principal scheme for academics and academic-related staff in UK universities and other higher education and research institutions with over 350 employers participating in it.

Staff who are on the USS pension scheme are frustrated because in 2017, there was an “attempt to transform the USS from a defined benefit scheme – which fixed pensions to salaries – to a defined contribution scheme with considerably lower pension payouts for most members”. The contribution from employees has increased from 8% to 8.8% in April, and rose again to 9.6% in October.

However, Universities are worried about how much they are paying into the USS Pension scheme for staff as a defined benefit scheme. They had to increase their contributions from 16% to 21.1% of the employees’ salary in October.

You can read more on UCU’s perspective here.

Accordian left What have the National Union of Students (NUS) said about the strikes? Find more...

NUS and UCU issued a public statement of mutual support concerning the ongoing disputes in higher education on the 30th of September 2019.

“NUS and UCU are sister organisations committed to promoting the interests of our members and to defending education. We are proud of our work together in calling for a better deal for students and staff, and in challenging the marketisation of education. We want to create an education system that is funded, accessible and lifelong, a system that reflects the needs of modern society.

We believe that staff are the cornerstone of the higher education experience and should be fairly rewarded. We further believe that ignoring important recommendations from the Joint Expert Panel (JEP)* and sticking with a discredited valuation methodology for the USS pension will be hugely damaging for students and staff.

As the representative of students, many of whom are also working in the sector and are members of UCU, NUS is worried that rising pension contributions alongside falling benefits and pay, increased casualisation and work overload will lead to a demotivated and unhappy workforce AND recruitment and retention problems as staff vote with their feet and move elsewhere.

As the representative of staff, UCU is concerned that the sector's failure to commit to fair rates of pay, tackle the gender and race pay gaps, deal with rising workloads or reduce casualisation has led to an increasingly stressful environment for staff.

We believe that the failure to address ever higher salaries for vice-chancellors and principals, while attacking pensions, sends a hugely damaging message to both students and staff.

NUS stands shoulder to shoulder with UCU and asks its members to:

  • call for higher education employers to recognise the seriousness of the situation, agree to reopen negotiations on casualisation, workload and pay inequality and put pressure on USS to implement all of the recommendations of the JEP
  • write to their institution head to raise concerns about the impact such disputes will have on their learning
  • participate in local demonstrative solidarity action, both during the disputes and the likely strikes, in support of UCU members.

In response, UCU agrees to:

  • work closely with NUS to explain to students why action is taking place and to update students as matters progress
  • commit to meaningful negotiations to resolve the disputes
  • continue to support NUS in the wider struggle for a fair and just education system.

*The JEP was set up jointly by UCU and UUK as part of the settlement of the 2018 dispute. The JEP is a panel of independent experts ask to look at the valuation and governance of the USS scheme and make recommendations to the stakeholders. Its first report came out in September 2018.

Accordian left What is Universities UK (UUK)? Find more...

Universities UK is the representative organisation for the UK's universities. It is the collective voice for Universities affected by this strike action.

Accordian left What have UUK said about the strikes? Find more...

Commenting on the University and College Union’s (UCU) announcement of eight days of strike action from 25 November 2019, a Universities UK spokesperson said:

“We are hopeful that the dispute can be resolved without industrial action; but plans are in place to ensure that any potential disruption to students and staff is minimised. The resolution to the 2018 USS valuation is both fair and reasonable, with the additional costs of maintaining the current level of benefits shared 65:35 by employers and scheme members.

“It’s important to note that the number of UCU members who voted for strike action over pensions accounts for less than 10% of the active membership of USS. Out of those who voted in the pensions ballot, 1 in 5 members were against taking industrial action, and the vast majority of branches only reached the turnout threshold of 50% because of the numbers of members voting no.

“We are committed to ensuring USS remains one of the very best pension schemes in the country, and hope that UCU will now join us to consider governance reforms and alternative options for future valuations, which deliver a shared set of principles, increased transparency and a sustainable scheme.”

Accordian left Will my lecturer be striking? Find more...

If your lecturer is a member of UCU, it is likely they will be striking. However, your lecturers are not obliged to tell you whether or not they are striking before the strike occurs. This means that some lectures will be cancelled and more often than not you won’t be informed they are being cancelled until you turn up to the lecture.


Accordian left What do I do if I miss out on lecture content? Find more...

Due to also voting to enact “action short of a strike” after the strike itself, lecturers will be:

  • working to contract;
  • not covering for absent colleagues;
  • not rescheduling lectures or classes cancelled due to strike action;
  • not undertaking any voluntary activities.

This means it could be difficult to catch up on missed content. In 2017, some lecturers uploaded lecture content and supporting resources onto Moodle for the content that would be missed, however this is at the discretion of the member of staff.

The University will be working to mitigate the effects of the strike on students and will be monitoring how severe the impact will be. In 2017 for example, some departments extended deadlines for some assessments to mitigate the impact.

Accordian left I'm an international student, how does this affect my attendance monitoring? Find more...

The Tier 4 sponsor guidance states that classes cancelled due to industrial action should not be treated as an unauthorised absence (therefore it will not impact a student’s attendance record / count as a missed contact). SIS will communicate this to Tier 4 students and place an item on our webpage. SIS will make appropriate checks with staff regarding missed key events during this period before contacting students.

Accordian left If I support the strike, what can I do? Find more...

There are a number of things you can do to support the members of UCU in their industrial action:

Tell all your lecturers you support their fight

Complain to the University about the changes to pensions/pay and conditions and how the strike has impacted you

Don’t attend lectures on strike days – go and join UCU picket lines instead
Postgraduates can join UCU for free as student members - www.ucu.org.uk/free

Accordian left If I don’t support the strike what can I do? Find more...

There are also a couple of things you can do if you don’t support the strikes.

Complain to the University how these strikes have impacted you by complaint form.

You can read the Uni's complaints procedure here.

Complain to UCU about how these strikes have impacted you.

NUS have provided guidance about students submitting complaints here

The Universities' regulator The Office for Students has also released guidance for students affected by strikes which you can read here

If you would like support in submitting a complaint, you can acess free independent and confidential advice and support via the SU's Advice and Support Centre

Accordian left What have the Office of the Independent Adjuicator (OIA) said about the strikes? (National body for dealing with student complaints) Find more...

"Following the announcement last week that there will be industrial action on pay and pensions, it is important that affected providers take steps to minimise the impact on students. This includes both minimising any academic disadvantage and making up for lost learning opportunities.

We have previously published information about our approach to complaints arising from industrial action, including a briefing notecase summaries and some themes that emerged. We hope this will be helpful to providers and students’ unions. The OfS has also issued a note External link (Opens in a new tab or window) setting out their approach to the impact on students of disruption caused by industrial action.

Felicity Mitchell, Independent Adjudicator said:

“Many students will be very concerned about the impact that this industrial action will have on their studies. There were many good examples of how providers tried to reduce the academic impact of the industrial action that took place last year. But it’s just as important to make sure that students don’t miss out on learning opportunities, and some providers did not always do this as well. It is especially important for students who are in the final stages of their course or on a short or intensive programme.

Not all students will be affected in the same way. For example some disabled students, some students with mental health issues, and some international students may be more severely affected. Providers need to think carefully about additional measures they might need to take to support those students.

Students need to know how to raise any concerns they may have through internal complaints processes. They need to be able to make informed choices about how to pursue their concerns if they are not resolved internally.  During the last pensions-related strike action some students were encouraged by a number of law firms to pursue legal action rather than raising issues through internal procedures. To the best of our knowledge none of the intended class actions have resulted in concrete outcomes for the students involved. Students who are unhappy with how their provider has dealt with their concerns can bring their complaint to us for independent and impartial review.”"



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