Industrial action by UCU, winter 2021/Spring 2022
The University and College Union (UCU) has planned industrial action for 1-3 December at the University of Bristol and other UK universities. The University and its services will remain open on these days and you should attend classes unless you hear otherwise.
Industrial action dates
- Wednesday 1 December 2021
- Thursday 2 December 2021
- Friday 3 December 2021
Action Short Of a Strike (ASOS)
- From 1 December 2021 through to 3 May 2022.
We respect the right of our union member colleagues to act where they feel strongly about the issues that affect them. We also appreciate that the dispute will cause anxiety for many of our students and their families. We are doing everything we can to mitigate the impact of industrial action on your student experience.
We want to help you access information in as many ways possible. You can:
- bookmark this webpage for the latest information and FAQs
- speak to your personal tutor
- speak to your school office or
- email firstname.lastname@example.org
Student Expense Fund
Students who experienced disruption due to the industrial action are eligible to claim for costs incurred, for example childcare, subsistence and travel. Further details, including how to make a claim.
Support for you
Further information about the industrial action and Bristol SU's position.
Information about the industrial action
Bristol is among a number of 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 salaries, the proposed changes to the primary national university pension scheme (Universities Superannuation Scheme - USS), workload and the gender pay gap. You can find more information on the USS webpages. For more on the UCU position, see the UCU website.
We are among a number of universities whose members of the national UCU voted in support of industrial action – either going out on strike or Action Short Of a Strike.
We are working to protect staff benefits by working with our Staff Pension Working Group and the local UCU branch to advocate for a reasonable basis for the valuation to keep cost increases to an absolute minimum. We have supported the proposal put forward by Universities UK (UUK) which recommends lower contribution rates for members than those proposed by the USS Trustees and are supportive of employers paying a higher share of contribution increases to help conclude the current scheme valuation. We continue to support the Joint Expert Panel (JEP) to secure the long-term sustainability of the pension scheme for the benefit of our staff.
The University participates in a national bargaining arrangement to agree the annual pay award and is obliged to act in accordance with the scheme. We argued for a larger increment this year, but it was clear that most institutions considered this unaffordable. However, with our union colleagues, we have made progress on issues like closing the gender pay gap and reducing casualisation in our workforce. We will also continue to support national negotiations to bring this issue to resolution.
Working with Universities UK (UUK) and the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS)
The Pensions Act 2004 states that the trustees of all pension schemes must consult with employers on various topics relating to their scheme. The rules for the USS scheme state that UUK will represent all employers on any consultations to do with the scheme. Please see the USS website for the current position - you can also find details about the people we work with at UUK and USS.
We will ask UCU members to let us know if they intend to participate in industrial action. Many will do so, but please note that they are under no legal obligation to inform us ahead of time. We will let you know if we can identify any teaching sessions or assessments that will be affected. Not all lecturers and tutors are UCU members or may not take industrial action, so many classes will take place as normal.
We will keep you informed via your University of Bristol email.
Changes to the USS pension scheme
To conclude the last valuation and balance the rising costs needing to support the scheme, the USS Trustee proposed significantly increased contribution rates which would make the scheme unaffordable for many members and university employers. We have had direct conversations with the USS Trustee and lobbied hard through UUK, who sit on the Joint Negotiating Committee alongside UCU and the USS Trustee, to keep the scheme affordable and to challenge the scheme governance and seek reform.
We support UUK’s counter proposal, which was accepted by the USS Trustee subject to consultation. This proposal offers more affordable contribution rates for staff members enrolled on the scheme, and some changes to the benefit structure and financial assurances made by university employers to the Trustee. UCU has chosen not to accept these proposals, but to date have not officially offered an alternative approach.
Filling the pension gap
We are one of 340 organisations that are part of the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), so any changes would need to be agreed by USS and the Pensions Regulator. For Bristol, every 1% additional contribution to the scheme would represent around £1.5m less to invest in our academic activities, pastoral care and infrastructure.
Strike action: what and when
Industrial action dates
The industrial action is planned from Wednesday 1, Thursday 2 and Friday 3 December and Action Short Of a Strike (ASOS) from 1 December 2021 through to 3 May 2022.
ASOS is defined as only working contracted hours and carrying out normal duties, not volunteering to do more.
Impact on teaching
Not all University teaching staff are union members, and it is likely that many classes and most University services, including libraries and student support services, including Wellbeing and Residential Life, will continue to operate during the strike. You should continue with your studies during this period.
We will try to tell you as soon as possible of any cancelled teaching. We won’t always be informed by staff in advance that they are taking strike action, so there may be occasions when we can’t provide advance notification of cancellations. This is a feature of strike activity. Please keep checking your University of Bristol email account for updates and keep in touch with your school. Please don’t assume that teaching is cancelled.
Dates of Action Short Of a Strike (ASOS)
Action Short Of a Strike (ASOS) takes different forms: this time, UCU members will work their contracted hours and will not volunteer to do more. We will ask staff who are working to contract in this way to prioritise student wellbeing support activities (including personal tutoring) and the preparation and delivery of teaching, coursework assessment, marking and feedback activities.
Impact on services
We expect all University services to remain open including libraries and wellbeing services. If individual appointments have to be cancelled we will let you know in advance. We will also let you know if there are any closures as a result of the industrial action.
How industrial action might impact upon your studies
Possible cancellation of teaching
We will tell you as soon as possible of any cancelled teaching, but we will not always be informed by staff in advance that they are taking strike action, so there may be occasions when we are not able to provide advance notification of cancellations. This is a feature of strike activity. Please attend your classes as usual, unless you hear otherwise, and check your University of Bristol email account for updates.
Lost teaching time
It is possible that some teaching can be rescheduled, but this can't be guaranteed. We have an agreement with UCU that we will not be asking UCU members to make up for lost teaching time. We appreciate that some colleagues may choose to do so to support their students.
Strike action and extenuating circumstances
If any courses are affected by industrial action, we will address this on a unit-by-unit basis, not via individual extenuating circumstances claims.
Impacts on PhD or research degree vivas
If you have a viva that is scheduled for a strike day, you should assume that your viva will go ahead unless you hear otherwise.
Student visa holders
The industrial action should not affect your Student Visa. Unless you are told that a specific class or contact point has been cancelled, you should attend as normal, and normal processes for attendance monitoring will apply to classes which are not cancelled. Any classes or contact points which are cancelled as the result of industrial action will be recorded as an authorised absence with a note to say that this is due to industrial action.
If you have concerns about impact of the industrial action on your visa, please contact our International Student Visa Advisers.
Impact on assessments
You should expect that all assessments and exams will take place as planned.
Mitigating the impact of industrial action on studies.
Any teaching activities or assessments that are impacted by the industrial action are being recorded by your school as it becomes aware of them. It will make the necessary arrangements during the strike action to minimise the impact upon you as much as possible, but it is only when the strike action is ended that we will have a full picture and can then apply appropriate measures in mitigation.
The impact will vary across schools, programmes and even between individual students taking the same unit. As a result, mitigations can take various forms.
- Providing alternative learning opportunities;
- Substituting teaching activities;
- Revising the format and/or content of your assessments;
- Extending coursework and project deadlines;
- Changing the weighting of a particular assessment in your overall results.
Anything we put in place needs to be fair to all our students, practical to implement and must safeguard the standards that underpin the quality of your degree.
The Board of Examiners will know the full details of the impact of the strike and will ensure that any mitigation is fair and reasonable. The Board can also apply further mitigation if necessary. Your school will inform you of any measures as soon as they have been agreed. Your academic outcomes will be safeguarded.
If you have further concerns, please contact your school office.
Extension requests for PGR students
If you are nearing your final submission deadline and your supervisor is not able to provide support on your final draft because of strike action, you may request an extension in the normal way. Extensions linked to the strike will be automatically approved for an appropriate length, considering funding body or visa requirements. This will be treated separately from any two-week extension requests allowed to cover unforeseen circumstances near the final submission deadline.
Extenuating circumstances and your wellbeing
If any courses are affected by strike action we will address this on a unit-by-unit basis, not via individual extenuating circumstances claims.
Concerned about education - extenuating circumstances
You don’t need to request extenuating circumstances at this stage. We understand your anxiety, especially since we can’t yet be definitive about the measures we’ll put in place to mitigate your situation. We are committed to dealing with the full impact of the action on your studies. If you’re feeling any impact on your health or wellbeing please get in touch.
Students with extenuating circumstances
If you’re already in touch with your school (via a personal tutor, senior tutor, school office, wellbeing adviser etc), please continue to seek their support and advice. If you believe that the current situation has exacerbated your circumstances, you should seek advice about submitting additional evidence to support your extenuating circumstances through your school or department. This will ensure that the Board of Examiners are fully aware and can act accordingly.
Mitigating strike impact
We appreciate that the industrial action may cause higher levels of stress for some of you. We’re putting measures in place to safeguard your ability to progress or graduate, depending on the stage of your studies. Where we can identify a negative impact upon students and there’s an immediate action available in mitigation, your school will enact it, for example providing an extension to a deadline for submitting coursework.
We don’t have a full picture of the impact of the strike action currently, as staff are not obliged to tell us in advance if they are taking part. Schools are gathering information on learning activities that have been affected, but this information won’t be complete until all members of staff who are striking notify the University. The impact will vary across schools, across programmes within schools and even between individual students on the same unit, so it is only once the strike action has ended that we can understand the full impact. We will review the impact in each school and apply appropriate measures.
Staff who are members of a trade union, and who have had a lawful vote to take strike action, create a picket line by standing outside buildings and explaining to people why they are on strike. They hope to persuade fellow union members not to cross the picket line, so that as many members as possible take strike action.
Crossing a picket line
Some buildings may be picketed by union members during periods of strike action, but you won’t be prevented from entering. There is an expectation that you will attend teaching and assessment activities as normal unless you hear that these have been cancelled or rescheduled. You are perfectly entitled to cross a picket line. These are likely to be peaceful and friendly. If you choose not to cross, you’ll need to take personal responsibility for the teaching and learning that you will be missing.
Advice and support
Most of your usual sources of support should be available including staff in school and faculty offices, or check out Student Services. If you are concerned about your wellbeing, please use our online resources or contact wellbeing support.
Student expenses fund
If you have incurred costs, such as travel or childcare, because of the industrial action, you can apply to the Student Expense fund set up to cover these kinds of costs.
Compensation and refunds
We appreciate that industrial action is disruptive. If you have concerns, please contact email@example.com .
You invest a lot of money in your university education. We provide you with the best education and opportunities.
Student fees cover all aspects of the provision to students (not just a ‘cost per class’) and are based on delivery of the overall learning outcomes for students in any given programme. These education outcomes are delivered and accessed in a variety of ways.
We will put appropriate mitigation measures in place so that your education outcomes remain unaffected. These arrangements are different for each student, so please raise any queries or concerns with your personal tutor / supervisor or school. In some cases, we will seek to put mitigation in place over a longer period if it is not possible to do so immediately.
Withholding tuition fees
Tuition fees cover not only teaching, but contribute to other areas including, pastoral, social and extracurricular provision, buildings, facilities, research, technology and software and, libraries. If you withhold tuition fees, then you will not be able to graduate while the debt is outstanding. We would follow our standard processes to pursue payment.
Withholding residential fees
Residential fees are not the same as tuition fees; they may include all gas, electricity and water rates, plus internet and a bus pass.
If payment for residences is withheld, we will put in place our standard measures to enforce repayment. You will, however, still be able to graduate.
We aim to resolve complaints informally wherever possible, so before making a formal complaint, please contact your school office to find out what mitigations have been put in place for any lost teaching/education, or to find out when the mitigations are likely to be known. We may not be able to advise you about mitigations immediately as first, we will assess the impact the industrial action has had, which may take some time.
If you have contacted your school and found out what mitigation is in place, and you feel that your concern or complaint cannot be resolved by the school, please complete our Industrial Action Complaints Form. If you have further queries, email firstname.lastname@example.org so we can help you.
Formal complaints will be considered in accordance with the usual timelines as set out in the Student Complaints Procedure (PDF, 149 kB).
You can also seek independent support from the SU’s Just Ask service.
Appeals should be submitted in the normal way after notification of an Examination Board outcome in accordance with the provisions of Sections 10 and 11 of the Examination Regulations (PDF). Please note that under the Examination Regulations, you can graduate if you have an appeal outstanding.
USS pension proposals
You can find more information about the USS proposals and the potential impact on pensions on the Universities UK website.