Industrial Action FAQs

Update 18 March 2024
These webpages relate mainly to the previous periods of industrial action by UCU.
On 20-22 March 2024 there will be industrial action by the support staff union, UNISON.
We are not expecting any disruption to student-facing services during this period. However, any service closures will be notified locally.
We do expect there to be picket lines at entrances to campus and the information posted below about picket lines may be useful.
The University will be open and operating otherwise normally, including the Main Library, all study spaces and other services across the campus.

The questions below are Frequently Asked Questions on the industrial action. These will be updated so please refer back to this page for further information.  Topics include:

Questions about why the industrial action is happening

Why are University staff striking?

The University and College Union (UCU) that represents some academic and academic-related staff at the University have balloted their members on two main issues; disputes over pensions, and pay and working conditions. This is a national dispute so a number of universities will be affected. The University of Birmingham cannot act in isolation to influence the outcomes that UCU is seeking.

Employers representatives have made progress with UCU on the dispute over pensions and industrial action in this element of the dispute has been halted:  Universities UK statement on behalf of USS employers.

The continuing industrial action relates to a dispute over pay and conditions.

All of our staff continue to work incredibly hard to deliver the best possible experience for students, and while we respect the rights of staff to ballot for and take industrial action, we are extremely disappointed that this action will target aspects of students’ education locally. While a majority of our staff will continue to work normally it is regrettable that some UCU members have chosen to take this action.

We understand that our staff deserve good pay and working conditions and the benefits of a secure pension when they retire. Birmingham is an excellent place to work and study, and we continue to sustain high levels of investment in our staff including through increased expenditure on and contributions to both pay and pensions and also through a major programme of work on equality and a new initiative to support career development, particularly for early career researchers.

On the national issues that underpin the industrial action the University would support a return to negotiations at a national level to resolve these issues as quickly as possible.

What is 'Action Short of a Strike'?

ASOS can take many forms including where staff members will only fulfil their contractual duties and working hours -  and no more.  

In this dispute UCU has announced a continuous period of ASOS (for up to six months) as outlined below, effective from 20 April 2023:

  • Only working contracted hours and duties and not volunteering to do more 
  • Not rescheduling classes and lectures cancelled due to strike action 
  • Not covering for absent colleagues 
  • Removing uploaded materials related to, and/or not sharing materials related to, lectures or classes that will be or have been cancelled as a result of strike action.
  • Undertaking a marking and assessment boycott 

The University will ask all staff who choose to take industrial action of any kind to prioritise work that supports the education or experience of students. Your School/Department will make every effort to make alternative arrangements for any cancelled events, including lectures, seminars, individual appointments, lab sessions etc. This might include scheduling relevant support activities at other times and/or providing alternative materials online.

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.  

What will happen to the pay that lecturers won't receive?

As was the case the last time that staff went on strike, any withheld pay will be used to minimise the impact on students and support the delivery of mitigating or other actions, all of which will support the overall student experience.

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

Our 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. 

In the circumstances, and having reviewed matters carefully, the University will not be providing a fee refund, or financial reimbursement generally, to students where adequate and reasonable steps have been taken to replace lost learning opportunities. For many UK/EU students such a payment would be made to Student Finance England and so would not be immediately beneficial in any case.

However where a student has incurred significant additional cost as a result of rearranged teaching (e.g. for additional travel, or child care), we will consider requests for re-imbursement, subject to necessary supporting evidence. 

 

Questions about strike days including picket lines

What will happen on strike days?

On each strike day some members of academic staff are likely to refuse to attend work or perform their duties – which may result in some 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.

What is a picket line?

You are likely to encounter picket lines at some of the entrances to campus. A picket line will be made up of staff who are on strike, and they may wish to hand out leaflets or explain why they are on strike. Staff on a picket line cannot prevent other members of the University community (other staff, students or visitors) who are not on strike from accessing the campus as usual. ‘Crossing a picket line’ simply means that you are going about your normal business on campus. You should not be subject to any criticism for passing a picket line on your way to study, play sport or take part in social activities.

By law, picket lines are only allowed on public land, for example on the public paths at the entrances to campus, and not on private land within that area. This means that once you pass through the campus entrances you are on private university land where picketing is not allowed. You may see rallies taking place on campus because the university does recognise the importance of peaceful demonstration and has agreed to a number of union rallies taking place during the period of strike action. You can of course engage with those on the picket line and listen to their views, but you should not be put under any pressure to avoid crossing a picket line. Pickets in the previous strike action were not threatening and it is a criminal offence for pickets to use abusive behavior to people walking past, or crossing the picket line, or to block people or vehicles trying to get into the workplace.  Remember, the vast majority of the University community is working as normal.

Can I cross a picket line?

As a student you can, of course, choose not to cross a picket line, but you will need to consider and take responsibility for the precise impact that this decision may have on your own studies. For example it would not be considered as an extenuating circumstance if your learning was impacted as a result of your decision not to cross the picket line and, therefore, not to attend lectures and seminars. 

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. 

Is going to the sports centre or sports training crossing a picket line?

You may have to cross a picket line to access any of the facilities on central campus, depending where UCU decides to deploy pickets on any given day.

By law, picket lines are only allowed on public land, for example at the entrances to campus, and not on private land within that area. We cannot at present say where pickets will be, although they are not allowed on campus nor to target specific buildings.

UCU have, in the past, picketed all main entrances to campus. Staff on a picket line cannot prevent other members of the University community (other staff, students or visitors) who are not on strike from accessing the campus as usual. ‘Crossing a picket line’ simply means that you are going about your normal business on campus. You should not be subject to any criticism for passing a picket line on your way to study, play sport or take part in social activities.

Can postgraduate teaching assistants go on strike/take part in industrial action?

Yes, anyone employed by the University has a right to take strike action, whether or not they are a member of the trade union which has called the dispute, although they will not be paid for any absence due to strike action.

Questions about the impact of the industrial action on your academic work

What action is the University taking to mitigate the impact on my studies?

We have made careful preparations to mitigate the impact on individual students and the vast majority of staff will be marking and carrying out their duties as normal.  If you are likely to experience a delay in receiving grades and/or feedback as a result of industrial action then you will be notified by your Head of School.  

Our priority is to minimise the impact of this boycott and to ensure that you will receive your marks and feedback, and that you are able to progress to the next stage of study or to graduate as expected - as long as you meet the requirements of your course.

On the national issues that underpin the industrial action the University would support a return to negotiations at a national level to resolve these issues as quickly as possible.

Is the University withholding pay from staff members who take part in Action Short of Strike (ASOS)?

The University reserves the legal right to withhold up to 100% of pay for ASOS where such action amounts to partial performance of contract, and particularly if a member of staff refuses either to fulfil their contracted hours or duties, respond to a reasonable management request, engages in a form of ASOS not currently sanctioned by UCU, or where such action affects student education or experience.

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

What if my timetabled session is cancelled?

Any teaching activities or assessments that are impacted by the industrial action are being recorded by your School as it becomes aware of them. Your School will make the necessary arrangements during the strike action to minimise the impact upon you as much as possible, but it is only when the strike action is ended that we will have a full picture and can then apply appropriate measures in mitigation.

Your School/Department will make every effort to make alternative arrangements for any cancelled events, including lectures, seminars, individual appointments, lab sessions etc. This might include scheduling relevant support activities at other times and/or providing alternative materials online.

If you have any specific concerns about particularly important laboratory work or other time-sensitive activities, then you should contact your College at:

Medical & Dental Sciences: mds-reporting@contacts.bham.ac.uk

College of Arts & Law: caleducation@contacts.bham.ac.uk ​

College of Social Sciences: coss-teachingevents@contacts.bham.ac.uk 

Life & Environmental Sciences:   lesaction@contacts.bham.ac.uk

Liberal Arts & Natural Sciences: lans@contacts.bham.ac.uk

Engineering & Physical Sciences: eps-concerns@contacts.bham.ac.uk

Birmingham International Academy
Foundation enquiries: bia-fp-admin@bham.ac.uk    
Presessional enquiries: presessional@contacts.bham.ac.uk

Can I access Panopto recorded lectures during the industrial action?

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. 

How will we make up lost teaching?

Once the industrial 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.

I am an international student with a Student Route Visa (previously known as Tier 4) – how will this affect me?

International students holding a visa for study 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 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.  Our priority is to ensure that you receive your marks and feedback, and that you are able to progress to the next stage of study or to graduate as expected, as long as you meet the requirements of your course. 

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. 

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

If you are scheduled to have a supervisory meeting over the duration of the industrial action, 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/Student Route 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 09:00 and 17:00) 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.

Questions about where to go for support, or to make a complaint

Can I contact anyone else for support or wellbeing 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. 
Find your Wellbeing Officer

Support from Student Services and the Aston Webb Student Hub will be available throughout the strike period.

Your wellbeing

The Guild of Students also operates an independent advice service.
Find out more about Guild Advice

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  

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.

Colleges

Professional Services