University Strike FAQs

You may have heard news about a national strike by some academics and academic-related staff in universities, and you may be wondering how it might affect you. The strike has been called by one of the unions (the Universities and Colleges Union – UCU) and they have just announced a series of national strike days at universities across the country from the 25-29 November and the 2-4 December.

It is important to emphasise that all teaching will run as usual up to the 25 November. Once the strike days begin, many of you should see very little impact on your studies because fewer than 10% of our overall body of academic and related staff voted for this strike. Some students will be more affected than others, but at this early stage it is not possible for us to know precisely which staff will go on strike.  

We understand that the prospect of academic staff striking might cause you some concern and would like to reassure you that we will be doing everything we can to minimise the impact of any strike action on you and your studies. We are working with the Guild and sharing plans with them, and your Academic School is putting in place additional support to ensure your queries are answered as quickly as possible. It is important to remember that all staff – including those who are taking strike action – will be concerned about impact on their students.  

 A reminder: please check your University emails frequently, and also Canvas. We will update this FAQ page regularly, and Schools will wish to contact you if they receive specific local information about strike action that could affect you.

What will happen on strike days?

On each strike day a number of academic staff members are likely to refuse to attend work or perform their duties – which may result in cancelled sessions. The University will, however, be open and operating otherwise normally, including the Main Library, all study spaces and other services across the campus.  

 A strike by staff is a rare but entirely legitimate protest within a dispute over pay and conditions.  The University respects the rights of Union members to take legitimate strike action, alongside those staff members who do not want to take strike action.  The pending strike action is lawful and we would expect all of our colleagues to treat each other and students with respect.

 We would also expect that a majority of teaching and timetabled events will continue as scheduled.  When you come onto campus you may pass members of staff at the entrances to campus who are carrying signs, handing out leaflets and talking to people about the reasons for the strike.

Can I cross a picket line?

Yes you can.  A picket line will be formed by staff on strike, and their supporters, at the main entrances to the University campus. Again, this is a legitimate form of protest.

However, you are absolutely entitled to cross the picket line and come onto campus. It is unlawful for protestors on the picket line to prevent or obstruct you from making your way onto campus, or to attempt to intimidate you in any way. We expect that the protests at the entrances to campus will be noisy and lively, but also respectful of the rights of the vast majority of our University community who are not on strike. Those who are taking strike action are our colleagues, co-workers and your teachers. You should not have any concerns about crossing a picket line to attend your lectures, study in the library or use any of the campus facilities - which will be open.

If your lecture, or other taught/scheduled session is running as normal, then you should attend this as normal. The University will not make any arrangements to replace sessions that are running normally so you should be aware of this is you decide not to attend them. 

How will my timetable be affected?

At the current time we do not know which individual staff members will take direct strike action. Your lecturer might tell you in advance that they either will or will not be teaching on a strike day but the legal position is that they are not obliged to tell the University in advance. This means that you may not find out about any cancellations until the day the session is due to take place. The University will make every reasonable effort to contact students in advance about any changes or cancellations and primary communications will come to students via their subject/school.

Should I turn up to timetabled events anyway?

Yes, you should. While the strike may be disruptive for some it will not affect every student and every course. We anticipate that the majority of sessions will continue as normal. If you have travelled to the University and a session is cancelled unexpectedly, then you can always study in the main library or in one of the many study spaces for that period.

Find a study space here:  https://intranet.birmingham.ac.uk/student/study-spaces/index.aspx

What if my timetabled session is cancelled?

The University will make every effort to make alternative arrangements for any cancelled events, including lectures, seminars, individual appointments, lab sessions etc. This might include scheduling additional sessions at other times and making supporting materials available that you can review through Canvas. This will help to ensure that you do not miss any of the essential content for your course. If you have any specific concerns about particularly important laboratory work or other time-sensitive activities, then you should contact your Head of School.

Can I access Panopto recorded lectures during the Strike?

We ask all staff to record their lectures as a matter of routine because students tell us they value these recordings as study/revision aides. For some students these recordings are particularly valuable; for example, those with English as a second language, a disability, and those who might need to miss sessions due to chronic illness or caring responsibilities. 

 At Birmingham, we have a Code of Practice that asks all staff to record their lectures but if they are unwilling to do so, they can provide an alternative set of materials that would support student learning equally well.

 Our Code of Practice states clearly that lecture recordings will only be used with the permission of the lecturer. In the case of this industrial action, we will ask those lecturers who are on strike if they are willing to make recordings available to help their students. This will, however, be an individual decision for lecturers. Remember, the majority of academic staff will not be on strike.

How will we make up lost teaching?

Once the strike action has ended, Heads of School will ask all lecturers to prioritise the recovery of teaching above all their other normal activities. Teaching will be recovered in a variety of ways as appropriate to the discipline, the amount to be recovered and the timing of assessments. Your academic School will be providing details once they have more information about which students have been affected.

What about assessments and exams?

We will ensure that you are not disadvantaged in any assessment activity. Hand-in dates and deadlines may be extended if these are affected by any cancelled teaching and you will not be assessed on any content that has not been covered due to disruption. Where any content or assessment of learning outcomes is aligned with professional body accreditation, we will ensure that this content is covered within rearranged sessions.  

Please note: you should assume that any assessment deadlines already set will remain in place and work to these accordingly, including any scheduled in-class tests. You will be informed in good time if there are any deadline changes.   

I am a final year undergraduate student – how will this affect me?

We will work very hard to ensure that any disruption does not adversely affect your completion or graduation. We will closely monitor the impact of strike action across modules and courses and we will ensure that students are not disadvantaged in their final year. For all students, at any level, there are specific mitigating actions we can take within our regulations and under our emergency powers to ensure the successful completion of your degree. 

I am an international student with a Tier 4 Visa – how will this affect me?

Some international students are required to have their attendance and engagement monitored as part of their visa conditions.  Do not worry.  You should always plan to attend every scheduled session and any specific check-ins but if any of these are cancelled, we will make alternative arrangements to make sure your attendance record is kept up to date and there is no impact on your visa conditions.

I am a postgraduate taught student - how will this affect me?

We will work very hard to ensure that any disruption does not adversely affect your completion or graduation. We will closely monitor the impact of strike action across modules and programmes and we will ensure that students are not disadvantaged in pursuit of their postgraduate studies. For all students, at any level, there are specific mitigating actions we can take within our regulations and under our emergency powers to ensure the successful completion of your degree.    If you do have any specific concerns about the progress of your studies you should contact your Head of School in the first instance.

What happens if my monthly PhD supervision is cancelled as a result of strike action?

If you are scheduled to have a supervisory meeting over the duration of the strike, some or all of your supervisory team may not attend, and you may not receive advance warning of this.  In such an event, please do not worry about compliance with monthly supervision forms (GRS2) or about the underlying Tier 4 visa monitoring.  Our records will note that your supervisor was striking, and that the absence of the meeting was beyond your control.  It would be a good idea in these circumstances to email your supervisors and request a new meeting date (be mindful that they may not reply until after the strike action has ended), and to contact your School or Department administrator to let them know that a meeting has been missed.    If you have any questions or concerns in the meantime, staff at the University Graduate School will be here to help.  They can be contacted either face to face (on weekdays between 9am and 5pm) by visiting Westmere, or by email ( graduateschool@contacts.bham.ac.uk)

Can I still contact my Lecturer / Personal Academic Tutor / Supervisor or other staff?

Yes. You can contact staff as you would normally do, although for staff taking strike action there may be a delay in them responding to you.  If you have an urgent academic query you can always contact your Department or School office.

Why are university staff striking?

Some members of staff at the University of Birmingham who are members of the Universities and Colleges Union (UCU) are proposing to strike at Birmingham. While the ballot for strike action was taken locally, the issues are part of a national dispute about proposed national changes to pay and pensions which affect staff at many universities. This means that individual universities like Birmingham have little or no local influence on the outcomes. The employers and the union have been attempting to negotiate nationally on pay and pensions for some time and employers have already offered and paid a 1.8% pay increase for staff on academic and related contracts for this academic year, which was paid to staff in October. The proposed strike is affecting only around a third of institutions, so it is very difficult to see how a national pay settlement can be reopened when so many employers are being unaffected by strike action.

What is the issue with pensions – why doesn’t the University just pay more?

The University is one of a large number of universities across the country who are part of the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) pension. Part of the dispute with the

Universities and Colleges Union (UCU) is about proposed changes nationally to the amount that staff who are members of the scheme contribute towards their pensions.

The USS is a private pension scheme which is currently in deficit - this means that there are concerns that it will not be able to fund the expected level of pensions now and into the future unless more money is paid in or the amount of benefit that people get when they retire is reduced. Through the UCU union, staff who are members of USS have already advised that they do not want to reduce the amount of pension benefit they would get when they retire, which means the only other option is to increase the amount that is paid in.

At the request of UCU a number of years ago, any additional money being paid in contributions to the USS pension is split between the member of staff and the employer at a ratio 35:65 respectively, with the employer (university) paying the larger share.

As a result pension contributions will increase from 18% to 21.1% for employing universities and from 8.8% to 9.6% for staff who are scheme members. The University agrees that staff should have a good and sustainable pension and, along with other universities, has already agreed to increase the amount that employers are contributing in order to protect the current level of benefit that staff receive when they retire.

This latest increase in employer contributions means that since 2014 employer contributions to USS have risen from 14% to 21.1%. As a result the University is spending an additional £14million per year on pension contributions for staff, with the latest increase costing an additional £6million this year. This level of employer contribution is very high for a private pension scheme and the additional funding to support pensions also reduces the level of investment the University is able to make in our people and facilities which support students’ and our research and civic activities.   If you would like to find out more about the background to the pensions dispute please visit the intranet site https://intranet.birmingham.ac.uk/finance/pensions/USS/2018-USS-valuation.aspx  or the USS Employers website https://www.ussemployers.org.uk

Who can I contact for more information?

In each School a dedicated point of contact will issue local messages about the impact of any strike action on your course.  You will be able to direct questions to your local point of contact once the exact impact of any strike action on your programme is clearer. Your Head of School will write to you to confirm how to make contact if lectures are cancelled and will provide further advice and information. 

Can I contact anyone else for help or advice?

If you are concerned about the impact of any strike action on your wellbeing then you can always contact the Wellbeing Officer for your School. Contact information is here:  https://intranet.birmingham.ac.uk/student/Your-Wellbeing/wellbeing-officers.aspx

Support from Student Services and the Aston Webb Student Hub will be available throughout the strike period and further information is available here: https://intranet.birmingham.ac.uk/student/Your-Wellbeing/Index.aspx

The Guild of Students operates an independent advice service:  Guild Advice. Further information is available here - https://www.guildofstudents.com/support/guildadvice/who-we-are-guild-advice/

Can I ask a question/query?

If you have any other queries that you think we should add to our frequently asked questions then please let us know by e-mail to:   strikeconcerns@contacts.bham.ac.uk

If you would like to contact your college, please see college contact details below;

 

Can I make a complaint?

Yes.  If you are dissatisfied with any aspect of the University’s services you always have the option to raise a formal complaint. Further information about the complaints process is available here:  https://intranet.birmingham.ac.uk/as/registry/policy/complaint-appeal/complaints/index.aspx

We are very sorry that you may experience some disruption during the strike period.  The vast majority of staff will be working hard to ensure that any impact on the student experience and your learning and teaching is minimised.

Will I be entitled to a refund or compensation for any missed activities?

Our priority is to mitigate the impact of any strike action on teaching and learning and to ensure that any action does not impact on the ability of our students to successfully complete their studies.

In advance of the first day of strike action next Monday we will not know what the scale and impact of the action will be for individuals or cohorts of students.   Given that fewer than 10% of the University’s academic and related staff voted in favour of strike action we do hope that a majority of teaching and timetabled events will continue as scheduled and the University will remain open and otherwise operating normally, including the Main Library, all study spaces and other services across the campus.  

The University’s response to the industrial action is focussed on seeking to mitigate any impact by providing alternative ways in which any content can be delivered and considering the whole of the teaching and learning experience. 

If, after the strike action has occurred, students are worried that the mitigation efforts have not been sufficient then they may choose to raise their concern with their School or Department and we will consider these in line with our published processes, details are available here:  https://intranet.birmingham.ac.uk/as/registry/policy/complaint-appeal/complaints/index.aspx 

Any concern raised should always clearly note the desired redress (i.e. outcome) and should be raised, in the first instance, through your Head of School.  If a School is unable to resolve a student’s concerns to their satisfaction, they may submit a Concern Review Form (available at the web address above) to student-complaints@contacts.bham.ac.uk within one month of the School response. Any decisions regarding complaints will be made on a case by case basis and would look at what the University had done to mitigate any impact and how any individual student had engaged with those mitigation efforts and alternatives.

Are staff and students permitted to hold protests and rallies on campus? 

YES.  The University is absolutely committed to the principles of freedom of speech and our guidance is available here:  https://intranet.birmingham.ac.uk/has/Freedom-of-Speech/index.aspx

Strike action and the rights to establish a picket line are different and are governed by a legal framework – meaning that striking workers are not permitted to be inside the premises of their place of work and the picket line should be outside or off the premises. These are the rules that govern all strike action.  We also have to consider the rights of those staff and students who do not wish to participate in the strike action and are equally entitled to go about their daily business. Protests and rallies on the campus, by staff and students, do have to seek permission and again this is normal practice. Approval is required so that the safety and security of our students, staff and visitors can be considered. Conditions may be applied so that any protest is legitimate and lawful and applications for an event must be received in a timely way.  In the last two years the University has considered more than 1500 events and activities under its Code of Practice on Freedom of Speech on Campus and none have been rejected.  At no time during the recent period of industrial action did Birmingham UCU make an application, under the code, to hold a protest or rally on campus.

What is action short of strike (ASOS)?

The ‘strike’ element of the current period of industrial action has come to an end.  Staff who were on strike will be back at work although some members of the Union will still be taking ‘Action Short of a Strike’ (ASOS).

ASOS is another legitimate form of industrial dispute and the Union has indicated that their members will take ASOS until 29th April 2020 or until the dispute is resolved. So what does that mean for you?

 ASOS is also commonly known as “work to contract” so what this means is that academic and academic-related staff who are taking ASOS will carry out all of their contractual duties, but no more. So, these staff will work to their notional hours of 37.5 hours a week, and no longer. It is unlikely that you will see any significant impact on your studies as a result of ASOS because staff are still required to fulfil their contractual duties, and the University will also ask all staff to prioritise teaching and assessment over all other duties and responsibilities.

 As ever, our priority will be to minimise the impact of the recent strike action on student learning, outcomes and experience. In the coming days, your School/Department will be working hard to ensure that any disruptions to your education are mitigated in the most appropriate and practical ways. 

 

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