Industrial Action by the University and College Union (UCU) in February and March 2018

We would like to provide you with further information about the national strike action and the steps the University is taking to minimise disruption.

We are one of 61 universities whose members of the national UCU (the University and College Union) have voted in support of strike action. At the University, approximately 7.5% of all staff voted in favour of industrial action. We estimate that the proportion of teaching staff who voted for industrial action will have been higher (perhaps up to 20%) but we do not anticipate that there will be widespread disruption across all of the planned strike days. We have detailed plans in place to minimise the impact on students.

We understand the uncertainty this proposed action may cause and we would like to reassure you that we are doing all we can to ensure your academic outcomes are not affected

How might your timetable be affected?

Not all members of academic staff are members of UCU and some UCU members may not participate in strike action. Therefore, we 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 staff are not obliged to tell us if they intend to take industrial action.

We have asked any UCU members who participate in the strike to provide teaching content to their students in an alternative format (digitally via ELE, recap, podcasts, directed reading material etc.) by the end of term 2.

Could this affect your assessments and degree outcomes?

We will ensure that any disruption caused by the strike 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 any impact of strike 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.

The planned strike action does not include a boycott of marking or assessment. Should examinations, assessments and vivas coincide with the strike action they will be rescheduled at the earliest opportunity.

When is the planned industrial action?

  • Thursday 22 and Friday 23 February 2018 (two consecutive days)
  • Monday 26 – Wednesday 28 February 2018 (three consecutive days)
  • Monday 5 – Thursday 8 March 2018 (four consecutive days)
  • Monday 12 – Friday 16 March (five consecutive days)

Further information

We have drawn up a Frequently Asked Questions page for you so we can answer any further queries that you might have, and we will keep this page updated throughout this period. This page includes information about the proposed changes to the pension scheme and the background to the dispute.

Further information on the Students’ Guild position can be read online. FXU are currently considering their position on industrial action.

We are committed to doing all that we can to ensure that the impact on your experience is minimised and that your academic outcomes are not adversely affected by this planned industrial action. We still very much hope that on-going national negotiations will resolve this dispute before the strike commences and we will continue to keep you informed as the situation progresses.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Below you will find answers to some of the most frequently asked questions regarding the planned industrial action. This FAQ list will regularly be updated.

Exeter is among 61 universities where members of the Universities and Colleges Union (UCU) have voted in required numbers in support of strike action or action short of a strike over the proposed changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), a national pension scheme.

The University and College Union (UCU) is asking its members to strike on the following dates over a four-week period:

  • Week one - Thursday 22 and Friday 23 February
  • Week two - Monday 26, Tuesday 27 and Wednesday 28 February (three days)
  • Week three - Monday 5, Tuesday 6, Wednesday 7 and Thursday 8 March (four days)
  • Week four - Monday 12, Tuesday 13, Wednesday 14, Thursday 15 and Friday 16 March (five days)

Action short of a strike includes the University and College Union (UCU) members working to contract, not undertaking voluntary duties, not covering for absent colleagues and not rescheduling lectures or classes cancelled due to strike action.  Members would carry out marking as normal. UCU state that action short of a strike will commence on 22 February and continue until further notice.

365 UCU members at Exeter voted in favour of strike action. There are around 680 members of the University and College Union (UCU) here, among around 5,000 members of staff. For data protection reasons, we do not hold a log of union members but we do have an indication of which Colleges and Professional Services members are grouped in so extra mitigation is taking place in those areas.

No, the University will be open as usual

It is our priority to minimise any disruption to students and staff. A mitigation group is working with Colleges and Services and alongside representatives of the Students’ Guild and the Falmouth and Exeter Students’ Union (FXU) to identify how we can minimise any disruption.

For example:

  • We have written to staff to ask University and College Union (UCU) 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.
  • If teaching activity is cancelled the University has asked academic colleagues to replace the teaching content by another means (digital, ELE, recap recording, reading materials etc) by the end of this term.

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

Yes, we look forward to welcoming prospective students and their families and friends to our upcoming open days on Saturday 24 February, Saturday 3March, Saturday 10 March and Wednesday 14 March.

Polite picketing has taken place at some entrances to our campuses. While pickets may seek peacefully to persuade you not to cross a picket line, they cannot require people to stop, or compel them to listen. A person who decides to cross a picket line must be allowed to do so.

We have written to staff to ask the University and College Union (UCU) 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 timetables sessions and submit all assignments by their due dates.

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

The University has long standing, existing emergency procedures in relation to the content of exams,  assessment and marking which will be enforced if this industrial action continues in to term three.

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

We have received a number of enquiries from students about the potential for tuition fee refunds or compensation as a result of the planned industrial action.  At the present time, the University is not considering any form of reduction in fees or compensation as the extent of any industrial action is still unknown and because we are working hard 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.

The University’s policy on withholding of pay during industrial action is set out online at http://www.exeter.ac.uk/staff/employment/union/industrialactionpay/  Salary deductions for staff who take part will be made from the March salary. This website sets out specific arrangements for this particular industrial action in terms of withholding pay for action short of a strike and for paying pension contributions. 

Any pay that is withheld will be directed to a range of student support initiatives.

Universities UK (UUK) has proposed changes that address the scheme’s funding challenges, avoid any increase in costs for individual members, and ensure that money is not diverted from universities’ investment in our core activities of education and research. The proposal is for future benefits to be delivered by a defined contributions scheme called the USS Investment Builder. Defined contribution pensions build up a pension “pot” using member contributions and employer contributions plus investment returns and tax relief. The income you might get from a defined contribution scheme at retirement depends on factors including the amount you pay in, the fund’s investment performance and the choices you make at retirement. 

Defined contribution pensions can be moved between employers and offer members greater flexibility at retirement, e.g. taking the fund as a cash amount, or converting this to a pension to receive for the rest of their life, or a combination of the two.

Universities as employers would continue the current contribution rate of 18% of salaries. Members would continue to contribute 8% or choose a lower rate of 4% of their salaries.

Any change to pension benefits will only affect benefits earned after the implementation date, likely April 2019 - benefits already accrued are protected by law and cannot be changed retrospectively.

The scheme’s current funding arrangements cannot support the cost of funding future defined pension benefits to members. Despite changes being made in 2011 and 2016, the scheme deficit has increased to approximately £7.5 billion.

These changes are necessary to address the funding challenges and put the scheme on a sustainable footing for the long-term, while continuing to offer attractive pensions to staff, now and in the future, and ensuring that contributions remain affordable to both staff and employers.

In common with other universities, we do not believe that alternative proposals put forward by UCU would be acceptable to the Government’s Pensions Regulator or the independent Trustee Board of the national Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS).

The University and College Union (UCU) has proposed more modest changes to the scheme benefits, and increasing employee contributions to 10.9% and employer contributions to 23.5% - this proposal would cost the University of Exeter £7.2 million each year. Exeter, along with other universities, could not afford to increase its contributions without significant reductions in investment in our core activities of education and research, resulting in reductions in staffing. We are also concerned that many colleagues could not afford to pay increased member contributions.

The changes to the scheme proposed by Universities UK (UUK) were developed through extensive engagement with over 350 Universities Superannuation Scheme employers that it represents. In addition, UUK held a survey of all employers in September 2017 that received responses from 116 institutions (representing 92% of USS’s active membership).

A vast majority of employers want a solution that prevents employer contributions exceeding 18%, and support benefit reform to ensure that the scheme remains affordable and sustainable. In terms of the shape of this reform, a majority of employers prefer moving to defined contribution benefits at this valuation. The proposal also includes the possible reintroduction of defined benefits if scheme funding improves at future valuations.

There are ongoing discussions between Universities UK (UUK), Universities and Colleges Union (UCU) and the USS to shape the details of the new pension arrangements and it is hoped that this could halt the industrial action.  After the USS Trustee Board  – which is independent of universities – has considered the proposed changes, and before any changes are implemented, there will be a formal consultation period with members. This is expected to begin in mid-March and continue for 60 days. The Universities Superannuation Scheme Board will consider the outcome of this consultation before finalising any changes.

The Vice-Chancellor held his regular VC Question Time for students, hosted by Exeter Students' Guild, on Tuesday 20 February. This event allows students to ask questions on any subject they would like; some of which covered the then planned industrial action which is currently underway. Also on the panel were Professor Janice Kay (Provost), Professor Tim Quine (DVC Education), Mike Shore-Nye (Registrar), and Professor Andrew McRae (Dean of Postgraduate Research). You can watch the event here.