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

This provides you with further information about the national strike action which took place in February and March and the steps the University is taking to minimise disruption.

We were one of 61 universities whose members of the national UCU (the University and College Union) voted in support of strike action. At the University, approximately 7.5% of all staff voted in favour of industrial action. 

We understand the uncertainty this action may cause and we would like to reassure you that we have detailed plans in place to minimise the impact of the action and are doing all we can to ensure your academic outcomes are not affected.

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 the strike action on teaching and learning. By carefully considering the effects of the 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 strike action did not include a boycott of marking or assessment. Where examinations, assessments or vivas coincided with strike action they are being rescheduled at the earliest opportunity.

Further information

We have drawn up a Frequently Asked Questions page for you so we can answer any further queries that you might have. Further information on the Students’ Guild position can be read online. Information on the FXU's position can be found here

We are committed to doing all that we can to ensure that the impact on your experience and academic outcomes is minimised by this industrial action. 

We appreciate the industrial action caused uncertainty 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 have put additional resource into these services to accommodate any increase in demand.

If you have any questions or concerns about the industrial action please contact our dedicated email address for students: industrialaction@exeter.ac.uk.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Below you will find answers to some of the most frequently asked questions regarding the industrial action which took place in February and March. 

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

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 took place in those areas.

No, the University will be open as usual

We have asked colleagues to ensure that missed teaching content is provided to you in an alternative format by the end of Term 2, which was 29 March. This could include the content being provided digitally, via ELE, via a Recap recording, or by providing you with additional reading materials. Some colleagues have also decided to reschedule their missed teaching.

The decision about how best to provide the missed content has been made by the module leader (and other academic staff on the module) and will vary depending upon the level of disruption experienced, the content missed, and the nature of the subject matter. We have asked module leaders to consider how best students will be able to meet the intended learning outcomes of their modules and what materials and resources will best support this. This means that not all mitigation will be the same for each module and not all types of mitigation would be appropriate for all modules across all disciplines.  We are therefore not applying a ‘one size fits all’ approach, but rather encouraging academic colleagues to take appropriate decisions around the mitigation for their particular module in dialogue with their students/representatives.

You can be assured that all mitigation provided to students on every module will be comprehensively logged and will be considered at each of the Academic Progression and Award Committees (APACs).  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.

If you would like to ask any questions about the mitigation that has been put in place for your module, please contact your module leader.

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 term 2.

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

Monitoring the potential impact the industrial action has on teaching is being carried out using a combination of physical and remote auditing techniques.

The University has a Teaching and Quality Assurance manual which allows for certain arrangements to be put into place where assessment or teaching has been severely disrupted. These can include:

  • Treating modules for which 75% of the assessed marks are known as a complete module and apply a final mark based on that.
  • Permit classification and award decisions where 75% of modules are complete.
  • Enable Assessment, Progression and Awarding Committees (APACs) to amend/raise module marks once all marks are available if, for any reason, marking of assessments has been delayed. No classification or award decision could be lowered, even if indicated by marks which were subsequently available.
  • Enable APACs 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.

Education policy at the University is recorded in the Teaching and Quality Assurance (TQA) manual, which sets out in detail how our education should be delivered, assessed and quality assured. In situations where assessment or teaching has been severely disrupted, arrangements can include:  

  1. Treating modules for which 75% of the assessed marks are known as a complete module and apply a final mark based on that.
  2. Permit classification and award decisions where 75% of modules are complete.
  3. Enable Assessment, Progression and Awarding Committees (APACs) to amend/raise module marks once all marks are available if, for any reason, marking of assessments has been delayed. No classification or award decision could be lowered, even if indicated by marks which were subsequently available.
  4. Enable APACs 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.

Of course, we hope that it will not be necessary to invoke all of these emergency procedures and as I have said on previous occasions, we are working hard to ensure that any disruption you experience will be appropriately mitigated.

We have asked colleagues to ensure that missed teaching content is provided to you in an alternative format by the end of Term 2 – this could include the content being provided digitally, via ELE, via a Recap recording, or by providing you with additional reading materials. Some colleagues have also decided to reschedule their missed teaching.  Your module leader will be responsible for ensuring that the missed content is provided to you and will contact you as soon as possible with the details. 

The planned industrial action does not include a boycott of marking or assessment. Should examinations, in-class assessments, oral examinations or PhD vivas coincide with strike action days, they will be rescheduled at the earliest opportunity and we will ensure that you are provided with sufficient notice about when the assessment will take place.

The May 2018 examination papers are currently being prepared and finalised. We will review all examination papers before the exams start in May to ensure that all topics that are assessed have been adequately and appropriately covered before you sit the exam. Examination papers will be revised if necessary.

All examination timetables were released on Wednesday 21 March via our usual process. The timing of your exams will be unaffected by any further planned industrial action. We apologise for the delay in issuing the examination timetable. The publication was postponed in order to take account of the recent industrial action disruption when setting the final timings for your exams. 

It is expected that impact should be minimal. Students will be able to complete the modules they elected to study at University of Exeter (even if content is delivered by alternative means), undertake any associated assessment, and have grades confirmed in line with expected schedules. The standard examination period of May exams: Tuesday 8th May – Friday 1st June 2018 will be maintained. Please discuss any concerns you may have with your department. If you need any additional support please contact  inbound@exeter.ac.uk.

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.

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 industrial action. 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.

All staff will be expected to work normally during the industrial action. Taking part in industrial action is a breach of your contract of employment. The University will withhold 1/365 of your annual salary for each day of strike action. 

We will phase withholding of pay for participating in strike action over two months as follows:

March deduction: 50% of deduction for weeks 1, 2 and 3 of the UCU strike action.

April deduction: Balance of deduction for weeks 1, 2 and 3 + deductions for week 4 of the UCU strike action.

The University will work with the Guild/FXU to determine how to spend the pay that’s been withheld from staff who participated in industrial action. Our primary focus is to ensure students receive appropriate content for any modules that may have been disrupted by the strikes; as such additional resources have been allocated to allow for the provision of alternative content, 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.

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.

On Monday 5 March, national talks between the employers’ representatives Universities UK (UUK) and the University and College Union (UCU) resumed – these talks were mediated by the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS). A proposal was agreed by UUK and UCU at ACAS on Monday 12 March, however, UCU’s Higher Education Committee rejected this proposal. UCU stated that action short of a strike remains in place and that it is planning for a further 14 days of industrial action which will be targeted at the exams and assessment period. 

The UUK board met on Friday 23 March and agreed a proposal aimed at resolving the dispute. That proposal was sent to UCU members. UCU branch representatives met on Wednesday 28 March to discuss the feedback they’d received from members. You can read more about this latest update here. UCU’s national Higher Education Committee announced on Wednesday 28 March that it had agreed to consult UCU members on this proposal.

 

We realise this has been 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.

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. 

For instances of Strike Mitigation (i.e. where there has been disruption to your learning because of the 2018 industrial action) we recommend you speak to your module convenor or your personal tutor in the first instance. You can also speak to  your Course Rep, or contact the Students’ Guild or FXU Advice units. You can also visit your Hub or email industrialaction@exeter.ac.uk.

Our general mitigation process is not related to the industrial action, but is in place at all times and applies to any individual student who believes that illness or other adverse circumstances are affecting their ability to undertake an assignment. You can read more about general mitigation and how to apply here. You can read more about the difference between Strike Mitigation and general mitigation below.

Strike Mitigation refers solely to circumstances where there has been disruption to your learning because of the 2018 industrial action. In this instance we recommend you speak to your module convenor or your personal tutor in the first instance. You can also speak to  your Course Rep, or contact the Students’ Guild or FXU Advice units. You can also visit your Hub or email industrialaction@exeter.ac.uk.

We also have a general mitigation procedure which is always available for any student across the University who believes that illness or other adverse circumstances are affecting their ability to undertake an assessment. There is further information available on the website, including how to apply.

All academic colleagues who have been on strike were asked to ensure that missed teaching content was provided to you in an alternative format by the end of term 2 (Thursday 29 March), so that on completion of each module you will still have the opportunity to demonstrate attainment of the intended learning outcomes.  This could include the content being provided digitally, via ELE, via a RECAP recording, or by providing you with additional reading materials. If you haven’t received any materials after this date please raise this with your module leader. Alternatively, you can speak to your personal tutor, visit your nearest Hub or email industrialaction@exeter.ac.uk.

All academic colleagues who have been on strike were asked to ensure that missed teaching content was provided to you in an alternative format by the end of term 2 (Thursday 29 March), so that on completion of each module you will still have the opportunity to demonstrate attainment of the intended learning outcomes.  This could include the content being provided digitally, via ELE, via a RECAP recording, or by providing you with additional reading materials. If you wish to discuss the alternative provision provided, please contact your module leader in the first instance. Alternatively, you can speak to your personal tutor, contact your nearest Hub, or email industrialaction@exeter.ac.uk.