What is happening? The University and College Union (UCU) which represents lecturers and a range of other university staff have voted to take strike action in response to changes made to their pension scheme, the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS).
UCU’s members at Ulster include Library Services, Registry and other Academic Services staff as well as lecturers. 214 of their members voted, of which 165 (77.1%) voted in favour of industrial action.
Strikes have taken place on
- Thurs 22, Fri 23 February
- Mon 26, Tues 27 and Wed 28 February;
- Mon 5, Tues 6, Wed 7 and Thurs 8 March
Strikes still to take place on
- Mon 12, Tues 13, Wed 14, Thurs 15 and Fri 16 March.
Why are they striking?
UCU members are striking due to proposed amendments to their pension scheme which will see their pensions being changed from defined benefits to defined contributions. This means that instead of a guaranteed retirement income, the pension income they receive will depend on changes to the stock market and how well these investments perform.
UCU have said that these changes will result in a reduction in retirement benefits by between 20% and 40%. In monetary terms, this could leave lecturers and academic staff thousands of pounds worse off annually.
This proposal was tabled by Universities UK, who are the representative body for universities across the United Kingdom at the Joint Negotiating Committee which is a forum for Universities and Unions to agree terms and conditions for staff.
There has been no agreement reached between Universities UK and UCU resulting in this strike action.
How will this affect me?
There’s a likelihood that there will be disruption to the lecture schedule. Most lecturers planning to strike will let their students know but this cannot be guaranteed so you may not necessarily be told if your class will take place until you turn up on the day. Digital resources will still be available and the university will work to ensure learning material for all classes is available online. UUSU is working closely with the university to minimise inconvenience for students, including reviewing assessment arrangements. We will keep students informed with any further updates.
UCU also voted to support action short of a strike which could mean:
- Working strictly to contract
- Not covering for absent colleagues
- Not rescheduling classes or lectures that have been cancelled
- Not undertaking additional duties voluntarily
It’s worth noting however that UCU members have assured us that they will be taking every step they can to support their students without compromising their position.
What is UUSU’s position?
UUSU supports UCU in the upcoming strike action, having been mandated to do so by Student Council and as part of our support of other trade unions through the staff-student alliance which has been the policy of UUSU for some time.
This position has been taken in recognition of the negative impact that these changes could have on students due to staff dissatisfaction, the knock-on effect on morale, and in turn, the student experience.
It’s also worth noting that some of our members who are PhD researchers, are also lecturers and therefore these changes could affect them. In addition, our current students might be considering a future career in academia and we wish to protect their future interests in the higher education environment.
UUSU is fully aware of the potential repercussions that this action will have for students and will be working to ensure minimal disruption. We have met with the University who have assured us that they will work towards mitigating the effects the strike will have on students.
We will continue to update our members with any further information we receive. We’ve had reassurances from the University that students won’t be disadvantaged in assessment due to the action.
How will assessment be affected?
UUSU has been assured by Pro-Vice Chancellor Education, Paul Bartholomew, that no student will be disadvantaged as a result of the strikes.
He has instructed all moderators & examiners that the strike action must be considered in the marking of assessments and examinations. In any part of assessment where most students have responded poorly— and it's found that this is a result of the strikes— that part of the assessment will be voided and will not be assessed. This will be operated on a case-by-case basis. He has also instructed Faculties to be flexible with assessment deadlines where these assessments are likely to have been impacted by the strike action.
In the meantime, UUSU is working hard to ensure that online provisions are put in place, where students have missed class time.
Can I ask for a refund?
UUSU is working with the university to determine the process they are likely to follow for student refund requests. The university do not have a process by which they can consider mass requests for refunds so any requests will need to be submitted on an individual basis.
It is most likely that this will be processed through completion of a Student Complaints form after the strike action has finished but UUSU is consulting with senior management to determine exactly how they plan to handle this. Further information will be circulated to students when it is available to us.
What are we asking students to do?
- Where possible don’t cross picket lines – showing solidarity with your lecturers. If your class is due to take place but you have chosen not to cross the picket line, make sure your lecturer is aware of the circumstances. The university have advised us that students will not be penalized for choosing not to cross picket lines.
- Make sure your mobile number is up to date with Registry so you can receive important SMS communications from the university.
- Let us how you’re going to be affected. If you’re made aware of a class due to be cancelled, send us an email on firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll work to ensure support is put in place.
- Tell your lecturers that you support their fight.
- Complain to the university about the changes to pensions and your worries about how the strike action will affect you. Email your Vice-Chancellor, Professor Paddy Nixon on email@example.com urging him to lobby Universities UK to come to a negotiated agreement with UCU.