Industrial Action at universities in winter 2020

As you will be aware, national level talks have been taking place throughout January in order to find a resolution to the on-going USS pension and national pay negotiation disputes.

The University and College Union (UCU) has announced further strike dates in relation to both of these issues.

The dates for further planned strike action, are set out below:

  • Thursday 20 and Friday 21 February (two consecutive days)
  • Monday 24 – Wednesday 26 February (three consecutive days)
  • Monday 2 March – Thursday 5 March (four consecutive days)
  • Monday 9 March – Friday 13 March (five consecutive days)

We know the prospect of further industrial action will be of concern to many of you, and we are hopeful that the national talks set to take place in February and March will lead to an agreed resolution to the issues above.

Here at the University we are working with colleagues, student representatives and trade unions on casual employment, through the Fair Employment For All working group, as well as workload and gender and race equality. These local initiatives build on the new national offer made by UCEA last week.

To read more about what is being done to address these issues nationally and locally, please refer to our FAQ below.

Could this affect your assessments and degree outcomes?

We will ensure that any disruption caused by further 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 continue to be committed to do all that we can to ensure that the impact on your experience and academic outcomes as a result of this industrial action is minimised. Our Academic Skills Teams are providing skills and support sessions: see full details online Study Zone sessions February - March 2020

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. 

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 recent industrial action. 

Key information for students

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.

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 also choose to 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.

If colleagues are participating 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. Colleagues participating in action short of a strike will carry out their scheduled teaching activities but you may experience a delay in receiving feedback on your assessments.

We encourage all students to attend timetabled sessions and submit assignments as normal unless advised otherwise. However, we acknowledge that some students may choose not to cross picket lines. In these circumstances, students should be aware that their individual choice not to attend timetabled sessions which are unaffected by strike action wouldn’t be considered as grounds for mitigation in relation to assessments.

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. There are a number of additional support sessions being held at each of our campuses throughout the strike period – if you have any questions or need any additional support please do come along to one of these sessions. Finally, you can access study skills support through the Study Zone, which also includes online resources.

All marks that you receive throughout the academic year, including examination results, are provisional until they have been through the University’s Assessment, Progression and Awarding Committees (APACs). For undergraduate programmes, these take place in June after all assessments have been completed.

Each year we follow robust quality assurance measures, including participation by both internal and external examiners, when scrutinising and finalising assessment results (including examinations). The process includes careful consideration of module level performance to ensure our students’ academic outcomes have not been impacted by any factors beyond their control, including Industrial Action.

As part of the review, the University’s APACs (exam boards) may identify modules where the performance of students is significantly different from that we would expect based on comparative data. In these instances, module marks may be ‘scaled’ (i.e. adjusted so that standards are comparable across modules assessed at the same level).

Further information on the process can be found in the Teaching Quality Assurance Manual.


We are working with staff to determine when and how the learning from missed classes and tests will be made up. However, until we know the full disruption in its totality, it is not possible to specify what the recovery actions will be.

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.    

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 have already communicated these changes to you via email.

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


  • No extensions will be made for deadlines on 20 and 21 February
  • Between 24 and 28 February all written assessment deadlines will be extended to 6 March
  • All deadlines between 2 March and 6 March will be extended to 20 March
  • All deadlines between 9 March and 26 March will be extended to 27 March*

*Geography Year 2 modules will be extended to 20 March. 

  • No extensions will be made to submissions already due on 27 March.  No extensions will apply to any assessments which are related to timetabled events e.g. slides for presentation.
  • For dissertations you should assume no change to the deadline unless your department informs you otherwise.


  • 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.

If you already have an agreed extension to your assessment which originally fell between now and the end of term, any additional *strike extension that has been agreed will also be applied. For example, if you were due to submit an assessment on 2nd March but due to mitigating circumstances you have been granted an extension of a week which gave you a submission date of the 9th March, you will still have the strike extension applied. In this example this would give you a new submission date of 27th March. Please refer to the guidance you have been provided by your College (and in these FAQs) on the strike extensions and ask your Hub team if you have any questions.

If you already have an agreed extension to your assessment due to the strike action and have a genuine case for needing additional time other than strike action, we will consider granting a further extension subject to the normal mitigation rules.

*See the FAQ ‘Will I get an extension to my coursework/assignment deadlines’

It is our intention that May 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 the recent strike action. It will not be mandatory for students to answer examination questions covering academic content where the delivery was disrupted during the strike.

We will aim to reschedule at the earliest opportunity any examinations, in-class assessments, oral examinations or PGR or PhD vivas that are affected as result of the forthcoming strike action. We will ensure that you are provided with sufficient notice about when any rescheduled assessments will take place.

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 are providing skills and support sessions: see full details online Study Zone sessions February - March 2020

There is further information on our Additional Support for Students page.

We have set up a dedicated email address for students:

During this period of planned industrial action we will be asking our 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 implemented. Any industrial action will not stop students being able to graduate or continue to the next year/stage of their studies.

As some teaching sessions will be cancelled during this period, we will not be recording Tier 4 contact points on any of the strike days.  This means that if you are not able to attend a lecture, tutorial or seminar because it has been cancelled, this will not have any impact on your Tier 4 status. We would ask that you continue to record your attendance using Digital Check In at all sessions that you do attend.

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).

Students can 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 May will be maintained. Please discuss any concerns you may have with your department. If you need any additional support please contact

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 - we will keep this under review. The University will be keeping full records of any and all impacts of the industrial action to ensure this is the case.


Key information about the dispute

What is being done to resolve the dispute?

We are already working jointly with the Exeter UCU branch on issues relating to the use of casual and fixed term employment, the gender pay gap and equality, workloads and wellbeing. We have also established a Working Group on Fair Employment For All to agree changes to working arrangements so that all regularly timetabled teaching is delivered by staff employed on standard contracts of employment; the use of fixed term contracts is reduced; and Postgraduate Teaching Assistants receive standard paid time allowances for preparation, marking and associated activities.

At the national level, there have been four national-level meetings between UCEA and trade unions focusing on the issues of workload, gender pay gap and ethnicity pay and casual employment in the Higher Education sector. Following the meeting on 24 January, UCEA (representing universities as employers) have made a modified offer 

On the USS pension scheme, a series of tripartite group talks is ongoing between representatives of UUK, UCU and USS to discuss reform to the USS pension scheme. They will continue to meet through February and March.  Statements from all their meetings can be found online. We are hopeful that these talks will lead to a mutually acceptable outcome that ends the current pension dispute.

On 19 February, Universities UK and UCEA issued a joint open letter to all staff at universities affected by strike action. The letter provides an update on the significant progress to address concerns of university employees on pay, working conditions and pensions

The Vice-Chancellor wrote to all colleagues and students on 17 February to provide an update on the actions we are taking to bring the disputes to an end.



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.

Other information for students

The University is working with the Guild and Students' Union in Cornwall to determine how to spend the pay that is withheld from staff who participate in the 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. In recognition of the disruption experienced by students, the University will also be covering the cost of graduation robing for students graduating in ceremonies in both Summer and Winter 2020.

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. Our considerations relating to the allocation of these resources will also take into account the impact of industrial action across various parts of the University, including across Colleges and campuses.

The chart below provides an indication of the ways in which resources from withheld pay during the period of industrial action in Spring 2018 were allocated.

Reports in the media have included inaccurate and misleading figures. The Vice-Chancellor's base salary is £315,000.

It is possible that Sir Steve will receive additional performance and loyalty payments in addition to his base salary when he retires, reflecting his strong leadership of our university for close to 20 years. 

Full details of the Vice-Chancellor's remuneration are published in our Annual Report and Financial Statements each year. The most recent report can be read here.