Industrial Action at universities in winter 2019

This provides you with further information about planned industrial action and the steps the University is taking to minimise its impact.

Exeter is one of 60 higher education institutions where members of the University and College Union (UCU) voted in support of taking strike action, or action short of a strike, in relation to the on-going USS pension dispute and/or national pay negotiations. 

On 5 November, UCU released the dates for the planned strike action, which are set to be on:

  • Monday 25 November – Friday 29 November (5 consecutive days)
  • Monday 2 December – Wednesday 4 December (3 consecutive days)

UCU have also advised their members to begin action short of a strike (ASOS) from Monday 25 November. If members choose to participate in taking action short of a strike it means they will come to work on their usual working days but may not carry out all of their regular duties.

We understand the uncertainty the industrial action may cause and hope that the dispute can be resolved. We would like to reassure you that since the ballots were announced in June we’ve been regularly meeting with colleagues across the University, as well as the Students’ Guild and Students’ Union, to carefully manage the potential impact any planned industrial action may have on our University community, and to ensure any measures we put in place are the right ones for our students.

What should I do on the planned strike days?

Not all members of academic staff are members of UCU and some UCU members may not participate in strike action on all days. Therefore, we would ask you to continue to attend your timetabled sessions, and to submit your assignments by their due dates. Wherever possible, we will let you know in advance if any of your teaching sessions are likely to be affected, however, this may not always be possible as colleagues do not have to let us know if they are participating in the strike action.

Could this affect your assessments and degree outcomes?

We will ensure that any disruption caused by industrial action is carefully accounted for when evaluating student performance on modules and degree programmes. We have rich data which provides us with an empirical basis on which to measure and correct the impact of any action on teaching and learning. By carefully considering the effects of any disruption on module marks, we will ensure that the final marks that contribute to your progression and degree award are fair and equitable. Naturally, normal appeal processes will apply.

Further information

We have drawn up Frequently Asked Questions (see below) for you so to answer any queries that you might have. 

We are committed to doing all that we can to ensure that the impact on your experience and academic outcomes as a result of any industrial action is minimised. 

We appreciate that this may be an unsettling time for you and would like to highlight the resources that are available to support you. This includes our self-help tool, SilverCloud and our Wellbeing Services at both the Exeter and Cornwall campuses. We will be putting additional resource into these services to accommodate anticipated increase in demand.

If you have any questions or concerns about the possibility of industrial action please contact our dedicated email address for students:

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Below you will find answers to some of the most frequently asked questions regarding the industrial action. 


On the days of industrial action (25 November to 4 December) we will ask union members to let us know if they intend to participate in strike action. We will let students and colleagues know if we can then identify which teaching sessions will be affected. So unless students hear otherwise they should attend lectures as normal.  We ask students to concentrate on their studies, attend timetabled sessions and submit all assignments by their due dates.

Around one-third of academic staff with teaching responsibilities are members of UCU so most teaching will take place as planned during the days of strike action. It is possible that not all of UCU members will choose to take part in the strike and some members of staff may choose to go on strike on some days and not others. Where possible, if we receive prior notification from staff who are members of UCU that they will be on strike, we will advise students in advance of cancelled classes. Unfortunately, this will not always be possible and our advice to students is to attend lectures as normal unless they hear otherwise.

If colleagues are striking it means they are removing their labour for the day(s) they are on strike. This means striking colleagues will not come to work as usual which may result in some teaching activity being cancelled. It may also mean you do not receive a response to any questions you ask (i.e. via email) until striking colleagues have returned to work.

Colleagues who are on strike may participate in peaceful picketing. The pickets tend to be organised at the main entrances to the University campuses, however, all colleagues, students and visitors to the University campuses will be able to come onto campus as normal.

UCU members taking action short of a strike will come to work on their usual working days and will carry out their scheduled teaching activities but may take one or more of the following actions:

  • working to contract
  • not covering for absent colleagues
  • not rescheduling lectures or classes cancelled due to strike action
  • not sharing materials relating to lectures or classes cancelled as a result of strike action and;
  • not undertaking any voluntary activities.

All Colleges have considered the implications of strike activity on assessment deadlines and have established positions that aim to be fair and preserve the student experience, which remains of paramount importance. Information about whether your College has extended the deadline for submission for any coursework / assignments that are due during this term can be found  below - Colleges will also communicate these changes with you via email.

College  Position on Extensions


  • Social Sciences and International Studies
  • Humanities
  • Life and Environmental Science - Geography (Streatham only)


From 25th November all written assessments due before the end of term one will have an extension of 8 working days from the original due date, up to a maximum of the last day of term (13th December 2019).  

Further adjustments may be considered if it becomes clear that students’ ability to complete an assessment has been further affected by strike action.


  • Medicine and Health
  • Business School
  • Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences
  • Life and Environmental Sciences (except Geography at Streatham)


Adjustments will be considered on a module-by-module basis, where it is clear that students’ ability to complete the assessment has been affected by strike action. 

Further changes may be made at a later date if it becomes clear that students’ ability to complete an assessment has been affected by strike action. You are advised to contact your Hub with any queries.

It is our intention that January exams will go ahead as planned. We aim to ensure that students are not disadvantaged by the questions set with regard to material that was disrupted during any strike action. It will not be mandatory for students to answer examination questions covering academic content where the delivery was disrupted during the strike.

This will depend on the nature of your enquiry. If you need to ask a personal / academic tutor for any kind of welfare support you should contact the relevant Education Support Advisor for Welfare linked to your Hub. If you need to ask a query of an academic nature and your tutor is on strike, you may not receive an answer until after the industrial action period. However, a number of alternative sources of help and advice are available. Some Colleges are running breakfast clubs during the industrial action, which you will have received details of via email and, in Penryn, there will be daily drop-in sessions. Finally, you can access study skills support through the Study Zone, which also includes online resources.

There are two separate national disputes. One of the disputes is about the USS pension scheme, which is the pension scheme for academic and senior professional services staff in “pre-1992” universities. The other dispute is about the 2019/20 negotiations on pay and other issues, which affects all UK higher education institutions. 

In relation to the USS pension, UCU has challenged the 2017 valuation and the amount of deficit the scheme reports to be in. The UCU do not think member contribution rates should go up in order to reduce the deficit and has taken a position of “no detriment”, demanding that the employee contribution is reduced to 8%. Universities UK, which represents the universities employing staff in USS, have commented that the second report of the Joint Expert Panel provides an opportunity to address UCU’s concerns about how the scheme is valued and governed – see and You can also read the UCU’s position online.

Below is a summary of the main changes to USS.

1. USS is a national pension scheme for academic and senior professional services staff in pre-1992 Universities. The scheme is managed by an independent trustee board in accordance with the requirements of pensions legislation and the Pensions Regulator and in consultation with Universities UK (representing employers) and the University and College Union (representing scheme members).

2. Despite changes to the scheme in 2011 and 2016 to address significant funding challenges, successive valuations of the scheme have continued to show that the scheme is in deficit, which means that its liabilities (ie paying current and future pensions) exceed its assets. At the March 2014 valuation, the deficit was £5.3 billion and at March 2017 it was £7.5 billion.

3. To address the funding challenges of the 2017 valuation, the USS Trustee decided to increase contributions from 26% (8% employees and 18% employers) to 36.5% (11.4% employees and 24.2% employers) in three stages, starting in April 2019 when contributions increased to 8.8% for employees and 19.5% from employers. The next stage of the increase is due to come into effect in October 2019 with the final stage in April 2020.

4. A Joint Expert Panel (JEP), with panel members nominated in equal numbers by Universities UK and UCU, was formed to review the basis of, and agree key principles for, the valuation of USS. Following the publication of the first report of the Joint Expert Panel (JEP) in September 2018, the USS Trustee agreed to bring forward the date of the next valuation to 2018 (instead of 2020) to take account of the proposals made by the JEP and supported by Universities UK. UUK has encouraged the USS Trustee to take account of the suggestions made by the JEP, which involve employers taking on greater risk, and has cooperated with the Trustee’s proposals on how the increased risk should be accommodated in the period until the next valuation in 2021. The objective of UUK has been to reduce the planned increase in contributions in October 2019 and April 2020 to allow the next valuation to be take account of the next stage of the JEP’s work, which is reviewing how future valuations should be conducted.

5. On 22 August 2019, the USS Joint Negotiating Committee agreed that contributions should increase, from October 2019, to 30.7% (9.6% employees and 21.1% employers) until October 2021. UCU members on the JNC voted against these proposals, which were agreed on the casting vote of the Chair. The revised contribution rates mean that the planned increase to employee contributions of 11.4% (and employer contributions of 24.2%) will not now proceed. There will be no change to benefits. These arrangements will remain in place until the 2021 valuation is concluded.

6. With a view to reaching agreement on the 2018 valuation and avoiding a further industrial dispute and disruption to our students, UUK proposed to UCU that employee contributions could be held at 9.1% for two years, until the outcome of the 2021 valuation is known. UCU dismissed this offer.

7. The Joint Expert Panel’s report on how future valuations should be conducted is now expected towards the end of 2019. There will then be a period of consultation with stakeholders with the expectation that the next valuation in 2021 is informed by its recommendations. The outcome of the 2018 valuation ensures that current benefits are maintained and the full impact of the planned increases to contributions are avoided pending the completion of this important review.

8. Any changes will only affect benefits earned after the implementation date, as benefits already accrued are protected by law and cannot be changed retrospectively.

On pay, the national pay negotiations concluded without an agreement and universities decided to implement their final offer of 1.8% on 1 August so that there was no delay in colleagues receiving this benefit. This figure is greater than the CPI and CPIH rates of inflation for August 2019 (1.7%). Many colleagues also benefit from increments payable on 1 August. Further information can also be found online.

The University of Exeter is already working jointly with the UCU branch on issues relating to the use of casual and fixed term employment, the gender pay gap and equality, workloadsand wellbeing At national level, the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA), which represents higher education institutions in national pay negotiations, has proposed further joint work on the non-pay elements of the trade union claim. UCEA’s statement on pay can be foundonline. On the USS pension scheme, Universities UK has stated its commitment to working with UCU to address concerns about how the scheme is valued and governed, taking account of the second report of the Joint Expert Panel.

We would like to reassure you that since the ballots were announced in June we’ve been regularly meeting with colleagues across the University, as well as the Students’ Guild and Students’ Union, to carefully manage the potential impact planned industrial action may have on our University community, and to ensure any measures we put in place are the right ones for our students.

We will continue to keep colleagues and students informed via email and staff and student newsletters .

We would aim to reschedule at the earliest opportunity any examinations, in-class assessments, oral examinations or PGR or PhD vivas that could not take place as a result of strike action. We will ensure that you are provided with sufficient notice about when any rescheduled assessments would take place.

You can be assured that all alternative provision provided to students on every affected module will be comprehensively logged and will be considered at each of the Assessment, Progression and Awarding Committees (APACs), alongside the marks for the module. This is part of the work to protect graduate outcomes for all students, with the APACs evaluating the impact and effectiveness of all mitigation provided to ensure fair and equitable outcomes for all students.

The APACs are enabled to adjust/scale marks for the cohort on the module, according to data that exists for previous years – ensuring that the impact of any disruption to teaching/assessments is accounted for.

We realise this is a difficult and uncertain time and would like to highlight resources available to support you, if needed. This includes our self-help tool, SilverCloud and we are putting additional resources into our Wellbeing Services at both the Exeter and Cornwall campuses. Our Academic Skills Teams will also be providing additional skills and support sessions and information is available through MyCareerZone. Arrangements for discipline-level support will be communicated locally.

We have set up a dedicated email address for students:

If industrial action is taken we will ask academic colleagues to take account of individual learning plans (ILPs) when making any alternative arrangements, but if you have any concerns about how your ILP is being supported please contact your personal tutor or the Associate Dean for Education within your college. For general advice and further information please go to the student welfare website where there is a section on ILPs:


Yes. There are recognised and long standing procedures at the University in relation to assessment, marking, and progression to the following year and awarding of degree classification that will be enforced. Any industrial action will not stop students being able to graduate or continue to the next year/stage of their studies.

If you miss any teaching sessions as a result of the planned industrial action your attendance will not be recorded and so will not affect your attendance record.  If you hold a Tier 4 your status will therefore not be affected by any industrial action.

The UK government issued guidance in July 2018 that Tier 2 visa holders will not be penalised for some absences from paid work in the UK, which now include engaging in legal strike action. These changes mean that a Tier 2 visa holder's leave to remain will not be affected if such absences cause their salary to fall below the required threshold. For further information please see the Tier 2 policy guidance (point 234).

The University will work with the Guild and Students' Union in Cornwall to determine how to spend the pay that is withheld from staff who participate in industrial action. As well as supporting the work of the Assessment, Progression and Awarding Committees (APACs), which will review and make decisions on degree awards and progression, additional resources have also been allocated to key services such as Student Wellbeing. All remaining withheld pay will be allocated to activities that support students affected by the strikes and we will continue to allocate further resources over the course of the next few months as the work to mitigate the industrial action continues.

If the academic responsible for a lab or practical session is not present then the session cannot go ahead. Similarly, if insufficient technical staff are available to set up the practical class then the session cannot go ahead. In the event of a cancellation senior technical staff would liaise with education staff to notify students as soon as possible. 

On the basis of the information currently to hand, the University is not considering any form of reduction in fees or compensation because we have mitigation plans in place to ensure that students suffer no detriment as a result of any impact that may be incurred. The University will be keeping full records of any and all impacts of the industrial action to ensure this is the case.

If industrial action takes place then we would expect there to be picket lines at some entrances to our campuses. A person who decides to cross a picket line must be allowed to do so (including union members).  The picket line must be carried out peacefully and must not obstruct entrances, create nuisance for neighbouring properties or trespass on private property. 

The unions are responsible for ensuring any pickets are briefed with regards to the how peaceful picketing must be conducted. The law requires picketing to be peaceful “for the purpose of obtaining or communicating information or peacefully persuading a person to work or not to work.”  The pickets can only be those who work for the University and we believe pickets will respect your right to enter the campus.   Failure to do so can potentially result in both disciplinary action and civil or criminal action against any individual.  

It is expected that any impact would be minimal. Students would be able to complete the modules they elected to study at the University of Exeter, undertake any associated assessment, and have grades confirmed in line with expected schedules. The standard examination period in January and May will be maintained. Please discuss any concerns you may have with your department. If you need any additional support please contact