FAQs relating to industrial action by University and College Union (UCU) members
Ensuring students aren’t disadvantaged in relation to assessment owing to strike action
Schools and Institutes are working hard to look at the impact of industrial action on the students in their areas, and communicating with them directly about next steps. Queen Mary has issued guidance to Schools and Institutes about steps that they can take ensure that students are not disadvantaged in relation to assessment as a result of the current strike action. This is available to download below.
What do QMUL bursaries have to do with the strike?
Staff and students have raised concerns about the changes to the QMUL bursary scheme for 2018/19. We’ve published information on Connected and MyQMUL that explains how the changes came about. We are talking with the Students’ Union about these changes and how we’ll run the scheme in the future, and will keep you updated.
Can students apply for a partial refund of their fees if some of their teaching time is missed?
We are doing everything we can to minimise the impact of industrial action on students. Most importantly, we are taking steps to ensure that students are not disadvantaged in relation to their assessments. The Assessment Contingency Guidance describes our approach to this.
We will always aim to deliver our programmes so that they match the published outline. There are different methods for achieving this and for covering essential material where there have been changes to scheduled contact time. For example, we may provide independent learning materials or recordings of lectures, or cover topics as part of other scheduled teaching, or offer additional sessions. If their studies are continuing next year, students may find that some of the material is covered later on. We encourage students to make use of all the learning opportunities and resources we provide, even if they are not in the expected format, as this will help to ensure that they are not materially affected by any changes to scheduled contact time. Our terms and conditions describe our approach to delivering and changing programmes.
Schools and Institutes should tell students what they are doing in response to the industrial action. As explained in the Assessment Contingency Guidance, the examination boards that meet at the end of the academic year have a significant role in this, so Schools and Institutes may not be able to provide all the details straight away. This is also the case if a student’s studies are continuing next year. Students should contact their School or Institute if they have a concern so that it can be taken into consideration. We advise students to keep a record of any situation where they think we have not responded adequately. If a student is unsatisfied with the outcome, they can make a formal complaint. If at the end of the academic year, a student thinks they have been disadvantaged in their assessment, in spite of the arrangements put in place, they should consider submitting an appeal.
Some students have asked about financial compensation for cancelled teaching. As described above, we are using a range of different methods, the impact of which may become apparent later on, to ensure that we deliver our programmes and that students are not disadvantaged in relation to their assessment. We consider this to be the most appropriate response to the industrial action. Only once we have a clear picture of the impact can detailed discussions about whether fees may be adjusted take place. It is worth noting that tuition fees pay for a wide range of services and facilities in the course of the year, such as learning resources, student support, campus and facilities management, other professional services, and funding of the Students’ Union. It would be incorrect therefore to define the fee only in relation to contact time, or in terms of a daily rate. We will continue engaging with students to ensure that we are helping them to complete their studies successfully.
Will this affect students’ outcomes at the end of the academic year?
Students will not be disadvantaged in relation to their assessments and examinations as a result of sessions being cancelled due to strike or industrial action, and the guidance mentioned above helps Schools and Institutes ensure this is the case.
Should students submit an extenuating circumstances claim if any of their teaching is cancelled?
If students’ teaching is cancelled because of strike action, it will not be necessary to submit an extenuating circumstances claim as the university will be aware of the issues.
If students want to raise a complaint as a result of the strike action, what should they do?
If students wish to raise a complaint, they should follow the university’s normal complaints procedure. Information about this can be found here.
For independent and confidential advice about their complaint, students can get advice from Annie Mitchell who is the Advocacy and Representation Manager in Queen Mary’s Students’ Union: firstname.lastname@example.org (please note Annie is a staff member of QMSU, not a student officer).
The industrial action and why it's happening
Since the 14 days of strike days have come to an end, what's happening now?
UCU have announced that they may ask their members to take further strike action. In the meantime, they have asked their members to take action short of a strike (sometimes called 'working to contract'), and to not reschedule teaching time that was missed. Schools and Institutes are working and communicating with students directly about the individual impact of any strike action.
Updates about the impact at Queen Mary are published by email to staff and students as further information has been known, and we expect to be able to continue in this way as the situation develops.
What is the industrial action about and who is involved in the dispute?
The industrial action relates to proposed changes to one of the pension schemes provided at Queen Mary for academic and professional staff. The funding of the USS pension for staff is a national issue that is managed by the USS pension Trustees, with oversight from the Government’s Pension Regulator, and cannot be resolved locally by this university. Queen Mary is one of over 350 employers who are part of the USS pension scheme.
The USS Board of Trustees is made up of people appointed by UCU and appointed by UUK, and some who are independent. UCU is a trade union who represents staff who are eligible to join the USS pension scheme. UUK is a body that represents the majority of higher education institutions in the UK, including Queen Mary.
The Trustees asked the Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC) to review a valuation of the pension scheme and put forward a proposal to ensure the sustainability of the scheme. The JNC is made up of equal members of USS and UUK representatives, along with an independent Chair. During this process UCU and UUK did not agree on a proposal. Since then, UCU have called upon their members to take strike action in order to protest against the changes that the Trustees took forward. No changes can be made until USS conduct a consultation with all it's members - this was due to take place from mid-March but is currently on hold.
We appreciate that the proposed changes to pension provision would have a significant impact upon many of our staff and understand their concerns. A consultation on the proposed changes to the pension scheme was planned to run for 64 days from mid-March, but as the negotiations and dispute continues, it is now known when this may start. More about the proposed changes to the pensions and consultation process is available on the staff webpages: hr.qmul.ac.uk/workqm/pensions/uss-defined/ussconsultation2018/
If you would like to read more about the dispute related to proposed changes to the USS pension, both Universities UK and the trade union UCU have made FAQs available. The pension provider USS has also provided information on their website. Queen Mary is not responsible for the content of external websites.
When did the strike action start?
Members of the University and College Union (UCU) voted to take strike action at Queen Mary and in many other UK universities. The industrial action included up to 14 days’ strike action in February and March. It is a national action by the University and College Union (UCU) because of a dispute over proposed changes to pensions for staff who are members of the national USS pension scheme. In February, the UCU asked their members at Queen Mary to participate in strike action on the following dates:
- Monday 26, Tuesday 27 and Wednesday 28 February; Monday 5, Tuesday 6, Wednesday 7 and Thursday 8 March; Monday 12, Tuesday 13, Wednesday 14, Thursday 15 and Friday 16 March; Monday 19 and Tuesday 20 March.
In March, UCU announced that they may extend strikes further.
Which members of staff are taking industrial action?
Only Queen Mary staff who are members of UCU have a mandate to take part in this industrial action. Staff do not have to tell us that they are going to take action.
What is the university doing?
The Industrial Action Strategic Contingency Group, chaired by Professor Rebecca Lingwood, Vice-Principal (Student Experience, Teaching and Learning), has been convened and will help prepare for any action, and put plans in place to minimise the impact on students and their studies. Even though staff who intend to take strike action do not have to tell us in advance that they will do so, each School and Institute is looking at the potential impact to students and doing everything they can to minimise disruption.
The Principal, Professor Colin Bailey, has been leading the Senior Executive's response to the strike action and proposed changes to pensions on behalf of Queen Mary, and is liaising with UUK and relevent bodies directly. He has also been running open meetings for staff and students.
What was planned to happen next?
In March, the proposals to change the USS pension scheme were due to go to consultation with all staff members who are members of this pension scheme or eligible to join it. The Trustees of the scheme would then have reviewed the outcomes of the consultation and planned the next steps. However, this consultation has not started and appears to be on hold.
Why can’t you afford to spend more on staff pensions?
We all want a decent pension for our staff. Our staff costs as a proportion of our income are one of the highest in the Russell Group. If we spend more on staff, we would have to make cuts elsewhere.
Is it true that the university is aiming to make £50 million in profit this year?
No. We do not make profit at all. We reinvest our surplus into the university, focusing on supporting students’ education and experience and allowing us to undertake world-leading research.
Would staff receive a proper pension under the new arrangements?
Pension benefits built up already are protected by law and won’t change. Universities UK published analysis of the impact of their proposals on some example profiles of scheme members that was produced by its advisor Aon. In summary, this report suggests that “current members should continue to receive retirement incomes equivalent to 80–90 per cent of those that would, hypothetically, have been received under the current benefits”. You can read this analysis here: www.employerspensionsforum.co.uk/sites/default/files/uploads/aon-hewitt-modelling-proposed-uss-benefit-changes.pdf
USS is preparing consultation documents and a consultation website for members and those eligible to join this pension scheme, alongside the development and testing of a benefit modeller to help outline the impact of the proposed changes. This should be available as the consultation launches in March 2018.
What happens to the salaries deducted from staff who choose to take strike action?
Any monies withheld are put into the student support fund.
Further advice for students
Students will not be disadvantaged in relation to their assessments and examinations as a result of sessions being cancelled due to strike or industrial action. Queen Mary has issued guidance about steps we are taking to ensure that students are not disadvantaged in relation to assessment as a result of the current strike action. This is available to download near the top of this page.
Will all of the campus be open on strike days?
Students are expected to attend university as normal, unless they have been informed that a session has been cancelled. The campus will be open as normal on strike days and staff, students and visitors will be able to go into all buildings. The Advice and Counselling Service and the Disability and Dyslexia Service will also be open as usual during the strikes.
When arriving on campus on strike days it is possible that you may need to pass staff taking part in the strike at the entrances to the university. Please be assured that the trade union has issued guidance that indicates that all pickets are intended to be peaceful in nature. Access to campus entrances will not be blocked and you should feel able to pass freely and easily without confrontation.
Will the Advice and Counselling Service and the Disability and Dyslexia service be open as usual?
Yes. The Advice and Counselling Service and the Disability and Dyslexia Service will also be open as usual during the strikes.
Will lecture capture still be available?
Lecture capture carried on as normal for those teaching events that took place.
Should students still record their attendance at lectures?
Where teaching has gone ahead, attendance will be monitored as it usually is.
What does this mean for the attendance records of international students on a Tier 4 visa?
If any of the students’ timetabled teaching time was cancelled, the School or Institute should have informed the Registry office, and they will ensure that students will not be marked as out of attendance. This means that there will not be any impact on their visa status.
Will students be examined on topics covered in lectures or other teaching events which were cancelled?
Students will not be disadvantaged in relation to their assessments and examinations as a result of sessions being cancelled due to strike or industrial action. This is a national issue and the people who oversee the assessments and examinations will know that students across the UK may be affected.
Queen Mary has issued guidance about steps we are taking to ensure that students are not disadvantaged in relation to assessment as a result of the current strike action. This is available to download near the top of this page.
What should students do if there is an assessment deadline during the strike period?
Students should submit their work as normal unless advised differently by their School or Institute.
Will this affect students on postgraduate research programmes?
Supervisions, review meetings and vivas for research students are arranged on an individual basis. Please contact your school or institute in the first instance if you have any concerns. Alternatively you can contact the Research Degrees Office: email@example.com.
Whom should I contact if I have a query that isn’t answered here?
Nothing in these FAQs overrides the Academic Regulations, which always take precedence.
Staff can contact their School, Institute or Department Head or lead administrator, or contact their HR Partner.