Student Voice

UCU Industrial Action - Frequently Asked Questions

The University staff trade union has annnounced that there will be staff strike action on campus from 1-3 Dec.

We realise you may have a lot of questions about the proposed strike and any impact on your studies, so we have prepared some answers.


  • What is going on?

    The University and College (UCU) staff trade union - which represents academic and academic-related staff - in higher education across the UK, is in an industrial dispute at a national level with universities.

    The issues of dispute are: staff pensions; staff pay levels; workload; use of casual employment contracts; and equality issues in the workplace.

    The UCU and national representatives of universities have been in discussions for some time but have not come to an agreement.

    UCU members in universities across the UK have exercised their right in law to commence industrial action against the universities.

    They have agreed to take two types of industrial action in December 2021:

    • Strike Action (Staff will be on strike on Wed 1, Thu 2 & Fri 3 of December)
    • Action Short of a Strike (This means working strictly to the terms of an employment contract and not doing any additional work.)

    It is likely that there will be further, more protracted, industrial action in early 2022 unless the UCU and universities come to an agreement on the issues under dispute.

  • Why are UCU members taking industrial action?

    The University and College Union (UCU) is the trade union representing over 130,000 academics, lecturers, researchers, managers, administrators, computer staff, librarians and postgraduate students across the UK.

    The purpose of the strike is to get universities and their representative organisations to re-enter negotiations with UCU to find agreed solutions on a number of matters:

    • USS Pension Scheme: There is a proposal by universities to change the terms of the pension, which will result in staff paying larger contributions to their pension fund while receiving less in return. Universities have stated that these changes are necessary to maintain the viability of the pension scheme – this is disputed.
    • Pay: This ask relates to the negotiation of pay and conditions of employment.
    • Workload: This ask questions the manageability of workload and its impact on staff wellbeing.
    • Casualisation: This ask covers the continuity of employment and a move away from zero hour and temporary contracts to deliver teaching and services.
    • Equality Issues: This ask covers a range of provisions to ensure equity in the workplace. Find out more here.
    • More information on why the UCU are striking can be found here.

      Information on the collective position of universities can be found from their representative organisations: Universities UK and the Universities and Colleges Employers Association.

  • When is strike action taking place?

    Strike action has been announced over three days for December 2021:

    • Wednesday 1 December 2021
    • Thursday 2 December 2021
    • Friday 3 December 2021

  • What is the impact of strike action on students?

    Some University staff will be on strike on those days. This means that they will not be in work.

    Classes, laboratories, seminars or tutorials scheduled for those days may not take place. New online learning materials may not be uploaded.

    Meetings, appointments and general access to some University services may be disrupted if staff in those areas of the University are on strike.

    Staff on strike will not respond to email or messages on the days of the strike.

    Staff are not obliged to give advance notification of strike action.

  • What is the impact of Action Short of a Strike (ASOS) on students?

    This is difficult to confirm at this time.

    Action Short of a Strike (ASOS) usually means working strictly to the terms of an employment contract and not doing any additional work.

    The purpose of ASOS is to legally slow down productivity and frustrate employers.

    Staff working in this way will generally not:

    • Be available, or respond to communications, outside of standard office hours (9am – 5pm, Mon-Fri)
    • Take on extra roles, duties or responsibilities, including non-core projects
    • Cover for other staff on leave, or attend non-compulsory meetings

    During previous periods of industrial action UCU have recommended the following actions as part of ASOS:

    • Working to contract
    • Not covering for absent colleagues
    • Not rescheduling lectures or classes cancelled due to strike action
    • Not undertaking any voluntary activities
    • A marking and assessment boycott
  • Does the Students' Union support the strike?

    The Students' Union supports the UCU industrial action.

    The Students’ Union held an all-student vote (also called a referendum) on 23-24 Nov to give students an opportunity to have their say on the strikes. An overwhelming 84.6% of those who voted were in favour the Students’ Union supporting UCU industrial action!

    The elected Students’ Union Council has also voted to support the industrial action.

    This means that:

    • The Students’ Union will give full and public support to UCU
    • Student Officers will support the cancelling of classes, lectures and teaching where staff members have chosen to strike
    • Student Officers will attend and encourage other students to join staff protests (pickets) when possible
    • Student Officers will have very limited attendance at University meetings. (e.g., student disciplinary meetings, meetings about the strike action etc.)
    • The Students’ Union will support further strike action next semester

    The Students' Union believes that the issues under dispute have a direct impact on the quality of your education as they affect conditions under which staff can work, their contact time with you, and the time they can invest in preparing for classes and marking assignments.

    We also believe that the strikes are part of a broader campaign against marketisation which has led to rising tuition fees, rising hidden costs of education and a greater focus on outcomes and league tables.

  • Does Queen’s University Belfast support the strike?

    No, Queen’s University Belfast has taken the position to not support any industrial action.

    The University has stated:“This is primarily a national dispute that the University cannot resolve unilaterally. However, we will continue to use our influence to shape and inform the national debate, where possible. Throughout the period of industrial action, the University will remain open and all student support services will continue to be available.”

  • How can I support the strike?

    Individual students can support the strike by doing the following:

    • Joining staff when they protest on a picket line on strike days
    • Email your lecturer offering your support – this means a lot to them
    • Email the Vice-Chancellor calling on him to support the UCU’s positions and call for university representative organisations address the concerns of UCU

  • Will my classes/tutorials/laboratories still go ahead?

    Classes, laboratories, seminars or tutorials scheduled for those days may not take place. New online learning materials may not be uploaded.

    Meetings, appointments and general access to some University services may be disrupted if staff in those areas of the University are on strike.

    Staff on strike will not respond to email or messages on the days of the strike.

    Staff are not obliged to give advance notification of strike action.

  • I am an Undergraduate / Postgraduate Taught student, what does this mean?

    Classes, laboratories, seminars or tutorials scheduled for those days may not take place. New online learning materials may not be uploaded.

    Meetings, appointments and general access to some University services may be disrupted if staff in those areas of the University are on strike.

    Staff on strike will not respond to email or messages on the days of the strike.

    Staff are not obliged to give advance notification of strike action.

  • I am a Postgraduate Research student, what does this mean?

    Your supervision may be affected by the strike and ASOS. Please contact your supervisor. If you are employed by the University (e.g. teaching undergraduates), you should contact UCU to get more information about your rights and duties. If you are an enrolled postgraduate student contracted to teach in UK higher education institutions, you are entitled to free membership of UCU. You can join here.

  • I am an International student, what does this mean?

    The University has not yet issued strike related guidance to international students for this strike action.

    Until the University issues formal advice we recommend that international students prepare to attend lectures as normal to ensure contact points are maintained.

    For further clarification, please contact International Student Support:iss@qub.ac.uk.

  • Should I still meet my deadlines?

    Yes, our advice to students is that you should still meet your deadlines if it falls on or outside of a strike day.

  • Can I get a refund on my tuition fees?

    University staff are not paid when they are on strike. The University will make a financial saving on staff pay as a result of strike action.

    The Students’ Union will be asking the University to use these savings to reduce the impact of strike action on students and to invest in meaningful student experience projects.

    The Students’ Union will advise and support any individual student who wishes to seek a refund from the University for any learning opportunities lost as a result of strike action.

    Students who wish to seek a refund for any detriment, dissatisfaction, or disadvantage suffered as a result of the strike action can use the University’s Complaints Procedure to do so.

    This is not straightforward as the University:

    • Can provide some alternative learning opportunities to you to mitigate teaching time you may have as a result of strike action.
    • Does not provide a detailed breakdown on how much of your tuition fees are spent directly on teaching and learning activities or on other central costs in the University.
    • Does not believe that it is liable to you, in any manner whatsoever, for any failure of delay, or for the consequences of any failure of delay, due to strike action, lockouts or other industrial action or disputes (whether involving their workforce or any other party).

    If you wish to seek redress from the University, please contact Advice SU – our free, independent, confidential and non-judgemental advice - who can advise you on how to proceed.

  • Where can I get further updates?

    Keep yourself updated by following us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and our Website.

    Stay updated what your lecturers or school is planning on those days.

    • Contact your school general office
    • Ask your personal tutors or lecturers if programmes or lectures will take place as normal or cancelled – just remember they are under no obligation to tell you whether or not they will be striking

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