UCU Strike - Update

On Friday 13th April, UCU members accepted an offer from UUK regarding their pensions and called off all further strike action this academic year in relation to USS Pensions. This means the further strike days planned for the 23rd-27th April will not go ahead, and no other industrial action is currently being considered.

In January, University staff were facing cuts of up to 40% in their pension. Following strike action they have secured a substantial win. The deal shows the effectiveness of trade unions and Industrial Action, but without the understanding and support of students we would certainly be facing further strike action and staff’s pensions would still be in jeopardy. Your teachers and support staff in the UCU are incredibly grateful to students. We will keep you up to date with any further developments.

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Depending on your individual circumstances, there are several options you may have including submitting a complaint to the University, or submitting an application for extenuating circumstances and we strongly recommend that anyone concerned about the impact of the strike on their studies, come and speak to our Advice Service, which offers independent, impartial and confidential advice to students. An adviser can discuss your individual circumstances and support you to identify the most appropriate options for you moving forwards. You can email guildadvice@liv.ac.uk or come along to a drop-in, which takes place every day between Monday and Friday from 1pm-3pm. You simply need to go to Guild reception during this time and ask to speak to the adviser.

We understand that there has been confusion around whether students will receive any money for the lost teaching time. Our Vice-Chancellor Janet Beer sent out an all-student email saying that refunds would not be available for students as a result of strike action and it is clear that students will not automatically be entitled to financial redress. We have sought advice from the NUS, who suggest that rather than refunds, students may wish to seek compensation from their institution through internal complaints procedures. NUS state, “Given that, in England for example, 83% of students will not pay back their loan in full, such a ‘refund’ would be nothing more than an accounting trick, sleight of hand which gives, in reality, nothing back to the students affected.”

This advice is further supported by the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA), which is the complaints ombudsman for higher education institutions in the UK. They have released the following guidance as to what they may consider on receipt of a complaint regarding the strike, “We will consider what the consequences are for the students who complain to us. It is difficult to make a direct correlation between missed contact hours and annual tuition fees. You cannot simply divide £9250 by the number of teaching weeks, and the number of taught sessions per week to work out the “cost” of the missed sessions. Such a crude measure does not take account of other learning opportunities, facilities, or the potential difference in “value” of final year teaching compared to first year teaching.

As well as considering any actual financial losses the student might have sustained, we can look at whether they been caused distress and inconvenience. This might be particularly relevant for students approaching crucial assessments. Often students are more interested in a practical remedy than financial compensation and we might look at whether the provider could offer extra or different learning opportunities to make up for the teaching that has been lost”. You can read the OIA’s (Office of the Independent Adjudicator) guidance in full here. It is important to note that before submitting a complaint to the OIA, you must first use the University’s internal complaints procedure and our Advice Service can support you through this.

The University has published an amended complaints procedure designed to address complaints relating to the industrial action, which can be viewed here. Students can seek advice on this process through the Guild Advice Service. If you wish to submit a complaint to the University, you should clearly set out the reasons for your complaint, detailing the specific impact that the situation has had on your studies. Things that you should consider in drafting you complaint are;

  • Exactly what teaching has been cancelled due to the strikes, clearly listing any and all lectures, seminars, tutorials or supervisory meetings affected
  • What you would have covered in these sessions and whether you are likely to be tested on this in your exam (see below for more info on this)
  • What proportion is this of the total teaching time you should have received over the academic year?
  • What has been put in place instead i.e. has the teaching time been rescheduled?
  • What impact do you consider this to have had on you dependent on your circumstances? E.g. level of study, support needs

Complaints should be raised at the earliest available opportunity and we strongly encourage any student considering a complaint to speak our Advice Service in the first instance, for independent, confidential and individual support tailored to your circumstances.

The University has stated that:

“We will endeavour to ensure that exams do not feature material for which you have not had adequate delivery on your course. In some cases this may mean exam questions have been removed, replaced or rewritten. In any event, for both exams and coursework, you will not be penalised for your performance in relation to any material which has not been delivered during your course as a result of the industrial action.”

If you have concerns about your upcoming exams, in the first instance you should speak to your specific module leaders or teaching support office to see how this will be managed on your specific course. It is important for you to clarify with your department exactly what you can expect to be included on the exam so that you are able to prepare for this. If you feel dissatisfied with your department’s response or you feel that you have been detrimentally affected more generally by missing out on a part of your course, then you may wish to submit a complaint (see above).

We understand that for students in third year, completing dissertations or final year projects may be a particular cause for concern. If you are worried about the progress of your dissertation or project, in the first instance, you should seek to discuss these concerns with your supervisor at the earliest available opportunity. If after this, you feel the situation has not been resolved satisfactorily, we strongly advise that you come and speak to a Guild Adviser, who can help you to identify the most appropriate route forward depending on your circumstances.

Whilst staff were on strike they did not receive wages. Due to the size and length of the strike the University a significant amount of money that it did not anticipate. We are currently clarifying where this money is going and will keep you updated.

A deal between UUK and UCU on the pension scheme has now been reached and all further strike action has been called off in relation the pension dispute. Find out about the deal here.