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Update on the UCU national industrial action

Industrial action

Industrial action

Update on 7 November 2023

The University and College Union (UCU) recently balloted their members about renewing the mandate to take national industrial action over pay and working conditions.  The result show that the turnout for the ballot was 42.6% - this is below the legally required 50% minimum threshold needed to support strike action. On the basis of this outcome, no industrial action will be taken.

We would like to thank the Committee of the Exeter UCU for their constructive engagement throughout this challenging period. We have committed to ongoing talks to take forward the elements of our Joint Statement and progress update, including a consideration of pay and pay scales in the face of the financial challenges facing the University and the sector. 

You can read the response of UCEA, on behalf of employers, to the UCU ballot on their webpage

We would like to highlight the wellbeing resources that are available to support you, if needed. This includes access to our Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), Spectrum Life, which is a confidential, neutral service provided by an external company to support colleagues at the University, this service includes the provision of free counselling.

The Industrial Action Compensation Scheme (see webpage) is now open for applications for taught students impacted by the industrial action during the 2022/23 academic year – either through strike action, or the Marking and Assessment Boycott.

Any student who wishes to discuss their own personal situation should contact as we have academic and professional services colleagues able to look at their individual circumstances. Student webpages and FAQs are being updated regularly. 

Background to the national disputes

During the 2022/23 academic year, some members of the Universities and Colleges Union (UCU) took industrial action in the form of strikes and/or action short of a strike, including a marking and assessment boycott in relation to two national disputes. The industrial action in relation to the national dispute about changes to the national Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), which came into effect in April 2022, covered more than 60 higher education institutions and was paused in spring 2023 (see FAQ on pensions below). The industrial action in relation to the national dispute on  UCU's 2022/23 claim for pay and working conditions for university staff, which covers more than 140 institutions, ends on 30 September 2023. UCU is currently balloting for national industrial action in relation to the 2023/24 national negotiations on pay and conditions. For more information about the two disputes, click on the questions below.

The University of Exeter's Executive Board and Exeter UCU (EUCU) agree the time, energy, and effort going into a stalemate is not beneficial for our community and we have jointly strongly encouraged  the national UCU and UCEA to re-engage to address the areas that we are working on locally, as detailed in our progress update on the January 2023 joint statement.

In spring 2023 UCU members voted to move forward with pension proposals agreed with employers (set out in the joint UCU and Universities UK (UUK) statements of 17 February and 15 March. These proposals look to return the USS pensions scheme to a comparable level of future benefits as existed before the April 2022 changes, and to achieve a reduction in costs for members and employers, should the forthcoming 2023 valuation allow. UUK and UCU have also agreed to work together so that the 2023 valuation (and future valuations) are undertaken on a moderately prudent and evidence-based basis, taking account of the open and long-term nature of the scheme.

The independent USS Trustee has agreed to complete the valuation within an accelerated timetable, with a view to achieving positive benefit change from April 2024.

The USS Trustee has been consulting with UUK, as representative of employers in the Scheme, on the Technical Provisions for the 2023 valuation. On 26 September 2023, a consultation will begin with members of the Scheme on proposed changes to Scheme benefits, to be brought into effect from April 2024.

UUK are also working with UCU on a constructive dialogue with the Pensions Regulator and the Department for Work and Pensions, taking account of the long-term nature of the USS scheme and the unique nature of the Higher Education sector. This includes submitting a joint response (with the independent USS Trustee) to the Pension Regulator’s consultation on the Defined Benefit (DB) funding code.

Joint work is continuing on low-cost options for employees who want more flexible pension contributions. 

At Exeter, we are continuing to progress our Fair Employment For All initiative, which this has led to improved working arrangements for Postgraduate Research Students employed as Postgraduate Teaching Associates and more than 750 staff on fixed term contracts being converted to open-ended appointments. The University will continue to work with EUCU to review and reduce the use of non-permanent contracts in teaching and introduce a new procedure for staff employed on successive fixed term contracts or engaged over at least 3 successive years on eClaims to seek a review of their contact status. We will also work together to review arrangements for colleagues employed on externally funded projects to move between positions in order to maintain their experience within the University and provide greater continuity of employment. Our aim is for non-permanent contracts to be the exception.

The University and EUCU welcome the improvement of the University of Exeter Gender Pay Gap in 2022. (Progress on closing the equality pay gaps are shared online.) The University will continue to work with trade unions and other stakeholders, through our equality groups, to progress and monitor the commitments set out in the Race Equality Charter and our Athena Swan accreditations and action plans which will have a positive impact on the student and staff experience, and address historic inequalities in staff salaries. We will work together to ensure the positive contribution Our Culture Conversation can make in appropriately identifying further improvements to colleagues’ working environment is realised and together monitor the effectiveness of actions

The University and EUCU will continue to work together to review the effectiveness of the implementation of the new University academic workload principles, which have been agreed by the University Executive Board following recommendations from a working group chaired by Professor Alex Gerbasi, which included representation from EUCU. Currently, a similar development of principles for Professional Services is underway. The University will continue to work with trade unions, locally and nationally, to share, develop, implement and review principles and best practice for the management of the workloads of academic and Professional Services colleagues sector-wide

Our commitment to further joint working with UCU on these issues is set out in our Joint University and Exeter UCU statements in January and June 2023

While national negotiations agree changes to the national payspine and non-pay issues are negotiated at institution level, the higher education employers’ organisation, UCEA, has offered joint work with trade unions to develop guidance on good practice on employment contractsworkload and pay equality, for implementation at local level. Further time-limited national negotiations on these issues were agreed with trade union negotiators in the spring (see the joint statements issued on 17 February2 March  and 14 March., but subsequently rejected in an e-ballot of UCU members. UCEA has confirmed its readiness to re-engage with trade unions on these terms of reference.

The University and Exeter UCU (EUCU) strongly encourage re-engagement with the terms of reference agreed at Acas as we believe these have the potential to lead to meaningful change for the sector.

Information for students about exams, assessments, assignments, and impacted modules can be found on our dedicated student webpage.