UCU Industrial Action – Frequently Asked Questions for Students

Staff who are members of the University and College Union (UCU) recently took industrial action over changes to the national pension scheme, known as the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) and a separate dispute over pay.

Continuous UCU action short of a strike (which is intended to include staff not covering for other colleagues’ absences or not providing materials for missed teaching sessions) started on 25 November 2019 and will end no later than 29 April 2020. 

Why has this dispute not been resolved to avoid industrial action?

Background on pensions

The independent Pensions Regulator has expressed concerns over the future of the USS pension scheme due to the scheme’s significant deficit and the rising cost of future pensions.

We believe in collective bargaining and proposals to address the pensions deficit and future sustainability of the scheme have been discussed at a national level between the UCU union and Universities UK (UUK).

The USS Trustee board recently approved contribution rate changes for employers and staff as well as a recovery plan for the scheme. In October 2019, an increased contribution rate of 9.6% of salary was implemented for staff, with employers’ contribution rate rising to 21.1%.

The University, like many others, is of the view these increased contributions to the USS pension scheme are entirely necessary to maintain the sustainability of the scheme. The cost of providing defined benefit pensions (which pay a retirement income based on salary and the number of years worked for an employer, rather than the amount of money an employee has contributed to the pension) has risen dramatically because people are living longer, and the economic environment has fundamentally changed since the financial crash of 2011.

UCU maintain their position of no detriment to members (no benefit changes, members to pay 8% of salary and employers 22.7%).

Background on pay

The UCU also took strike action in relation to the sector’s 2019-20 pay award which ranged between 3.65% for staff on the lowest point on the pay scale, and 1.8% for those on the higher points of the pay scale. The award has the effect of increasing the rate of pay at the lowest point on the pay scale to £9 per hour, which is currently the Real Living Wage rate of pay. This coincides with the University’s announcement to be a Real Living Wage employer that was made in March 2019.

As with pensions, pay arrangements are negotiated at national level and individual universities are not involved in the negotiations.

What is action short of a strike?

Action short of a strike (ASOS) is defined as other industrial action that is not a strike.

UCU has advised that the action short of strike action in this period will consist of its members;  

  • working to contract
  • not covering for absent colleagues
  • not rescheduling lectures or classes cancelled due to strike action
  • Not sharing materials relating to lectures or classes cancelled as a result of the strike action.
  • not undertaking any voluntary activities

What will the University offer in place of teaching sessions affected by the industrial action?

The University is committed to maintaining the quality of your learning experience. We have emailed staff to ask that, where teaching sessions are cancelled, they provide you with alternative learning materials or supervisory support.

It is important that all students in areas where scheduled teaching has been missed take advantage of any alternative materials, supervision or other support provided by staff to help you meet the learning outcomes of the relevant modules or units. You should take every opportunity to make use of the resources and any other support provided and continue with your private study in the normal way. Lecturers, School Support Offices and Academic Advisers are, of course, available to provide general help and advice to students in the run up to, and during the examination period.  Libraries and online resources also remain available to you.

Some lecturers, however, may choose not to provide this but where this is the case, we will be aware of this and the potential impact on your ability to complete coursework or answer examination questions.

The final marks for modules and the final classifications of degrees are overseen by our exam boards. These boards are responsible for safeguarding the interests of students whose progress may have been affected by unusual circumstances, including industrial action. Where there have not been appropriate alternative means to provide additional support for any disrupted teaching you have experienced then we will be aware of this and it will be taken into consideration by the relevant exam board. You can find out more about this process in our policy on ‘Procedures for Protecting the Interests of Students in the Event of Major Disruption’. 

If you feel that issues related to the industrial action have impacted on your performance, you will not need to apply for extenuating circumstances to ensure that you are being treated fairly as this will be considered automatically. However, if you wish to notify us about any personal circumstances unrelated to the strike action which you believe may affect your performance, please note you should follow the normal process of extenuating circumstances where appropriate.

Will my assignment deadlines move back?

As a general principle, assignment deadlines will not move and students should continue to submit in time to meet existing deadlines. Students will be informed of any changes to the dates for the return of work, which may need to be delayed due to strike action.

What happens if I have not received the teaching necessary in order to be able to complete my assessments to the usual standard?

We know that you will be concerned about the potential impact on your ability to complete coursework or answer examination questions and would like to reassure you that we will make certain that no student is disadvantaged as a result of the strike action. We will be aware of where missed teaching sessions may have an impact on some coursework or exam questions and we have processes in place for our Board of Examiners to ensure that your attainment and progression is not unduly affected, whilst maintaining academic standards.

Once work has been marked, consideration will be made by a Board of Examiners as to whether the work has been significantly impacted by the industrial action. In these circumstances you will be notified of the action to be taken.

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

If you arrived for a meeting with your dissertation or final year project supervisor and they were not there and you think that this will affect your work please inform the School Office staff as soon as possible and they will record this. If you think you will need an extension because of this please indicate how many sessions have been missed, providing details of days and times. Your Head of Department will consider the impact of missed supervision and will ensure you are informed of any extension to your submission deadline.

What if I want to appeal my exam results?

For information on appeals, please see: https://www.liverpool.ac.uk/student-administration/student-administration-centre/policies-procedures/appeals/

Will I receive any compensation? 

At present we do not believe that compensation will be necessary. We have asked staff who took strike action to support you with additional learning opportunities so that you can achieve the intended learning outcomes for your modules and programme and ensure you are not disadvantaged.

If following this you remain dissatisfied you can make a complaint using the amended version of the Student Complaints Procedure which is designed to be used during periods of major disruption. The current industrial action is covered by this procedure which can be found here and as part of the complaint you can indicate the outcome you are seeking. 

Will I receive a refund for travel to campus if the lecture is cancelled due to industrial action?

We will not be providing refunds for travel in instances where teaching sessions have been cancelled due to industrial action.

What will happen after the current planned industrial action?

The industrial action ballot is valid for six months. If the dispute is not resolved, the action short of a strike may continue throughout that period. UCU may also choose to notify the University of further strike action. If so, they will provide the University with 14 days’ notice of strike dates.

How will money withheld from staff who undertake industrial action be spent?

This money will be used to fund student-facing projects. For example, deductions for industrial action taken in 2018 were used to enhance provision relating to mental health and tackling sexual misconduct.

Who do I contact if I would like to make a complaint and how will my complaint be dealt with?

If you would like to complain and your issue has not been resolved through speaking to your School Office, then you can submit a complaint using the amended version of the Student Complaints Procedure which is designed to be used during periods of major disruption. The current industrial action is covered by this procedure. The procedure can be found here: https://www.liverpool.ac.uk/student-administration/student-administration-centre/policies-procedures/complaints/.

What if I need more support?

We recognise that the strike action may be a cause for concern and worry for you. If at any time you feel you might benefit from some extra support, please access our wellbeing drop-in, located in the Alsop Building.

You don’t need to book – simply come along to the Student Welfare Advice and Guidance Information Point on the ground floor of the Alsop Building (on University Square) and you will be able to access practical and pastoral support in a confidential space. Information on all other support available can be accessed here.

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