UCL and University and College Union industrial action: your questions answered

As you may have heard, the University and College Union (UCL) are planning more days of industrial action in February and March 2020. UCL students may experience disruption to their classes.

What is the industrial action about?

Several days of industrial action, further to that which took place in autumn 2019, are planned by the University and College Union (UCU). UCU has called on its members to take action to support a dispute about pay and proposed changes to the USS Pension Scheme, to which many staff who teach and support teaching belong. UCU has met all the legal requirements for calling a lawful strike.

When will the industrial action be taking place?

There will be 14 days of industrial action over a four-week period. The dates are as follows:

  • Week one: Monday 24, Tuesday 25 and Wednesday 26 February
  • Week two: Monday 2, Tuesday 3, Wednesday 4 and Thursday 5 March
  • Week three: Monday 9, Tuesday 10, Wednesday 11, Thursday 12 and Friday 13 March
  • Week four: Thursday 19 and Friday 20 March

Please note these dates differ from those published on the UCU website.

What is happening with the negotiations?

The pay and conditions of university staff and USS pension arrangements are negotiated nationally by two representative bodies for the majority of universities. For USS pensions the national body is Universities-UK (UUK) and pay and conditions the body is UCEA (Universities and Colleges Employers’ Association).

Negotiations between the UCU and UUK resulted in a proposed agreement for USS Pension Scheme contributions, which was supported by UCL after consultation with USS scheme members. However, this proposal was rejected by UCU. It is not yet clear what will happen next but UCL supports further talks and will engage fully in any new negotiations.

UCL will also continue to participate in discussions with UCEA and our recognised trade unions over matters of pay and other workplace issues.

What impact is the industrial action likely to have on students?

It is difficult to predict how you will be affected. UCU members include both academic and professional services staff, but not all staff are UCU members. Staff who choose to strike do not have to tell UCL of their intention beforehand and they may not commit to all eight days.

This industrial action could mean that some of your classes or lectures are cancelled. You may also find that offices and student support services are not fully staffed on strike days.

We guarantee that you will not be assessed on academic content which has not been properly covered due to industrial action.

Is there a Learning Opportunities Fund to assist students who may have missed teaching due to industrial action in February and March 2020?

Yes. The Learning Opportunities Fund has reopened for applications from students whose learning was affected by the strike action that took place between 24 February and 20 March 2020.

The Learning Opportunities Fund provides a non-repayable grant to enable those students who were affected by the strike action to buy extra resources to help replace lost learning time e.g. to purchase books, online classes, extra tutoring.

All affected UCL students eligible to apply.

The fund is open to all UCL students who were enrolled during the strike period 24 February to 20 March 2020 and where the industrial action had an impact on your learning, such as a cancelled lecture or cancelled seminar.

The maximum award value is £500 and applications will be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

How to apply

To apply, you will be asked to:

  • list your teaching events that were affected during the strike period;
  • specify how much funding you are requesting;
  • indicate how you will use the funds; and
  • provide estimates for the costs of learning resources required.

To apply please complete the online application. Please note that you’ll need to use your UCL ID to log in to the form.

The deadline for applications is midnight on Monday 11 May 2020.

We aim to notify all applicants of our decisions by Friday 12 June 2020.

Limits of the Learning Opportunities Fund

The Learning Opportunities Fund cannot support requests for tuition fee refunds or compensation claims. Disruption due to the Covid-19 outbreak is also not covered. This fund only supports the learning of students affected by industrial action.

Will I still be able to come onto campus during the strike action?

You are still able to come onto campus during the strike, and buildings and libraries will remain open. You may see a picket line made up of UCU members outside some buildings. They may be holdings signs or handing out leaflets, and you can talk to them and ask questions if you wish. They may ask you not to cross their picket line, but they are not allowed to prevent you from entering the building.

What should I do if I feel uncomfortable crossing the picket line?

It is your decision whether to cross the picket line or not. If you feel uncomfortable crossing the picket line, you can choose not to do so, but please be aware that there may be a negative impact on your studies if you miss classes or assessment that have not been cancelled.

Those picketing cannot intimidate anyone choosing to cross the picket line. If you feel at all intimated by picketers, please inform UCL Security by calling 222 from a UCL phone or +44 (0)20 7679 2222 from a mobile.

What should I do if I witness or experience intimidating or bullying behaviour during the strike?

Bullying and abusive behaviour is always unacceptable at UCL. This applies equally during periods of industrial action when feelings can run high. To report inappropriate behaviour please visit Report and Support.

For immediate assistance please use UCL’s emergency number, internal extension 222 (020 7679 2222). This will put you through to the Security Control Room.

Will my degree be devalued if I missed some of my teaching and in-class assessments?

UCL will do everything we can to minimise the impact of the action on students. In previous disputes, we have always ensured that students are able to complete their studies and to graduate on time. We also guarantee that you will not be assessed on academic content which has not been properly covered due to industrial action.

Please bear in mind that the teaching, learning and assessment for your programme of study takes place in a range of different ways, not just in the classroom. You can use your reading list and online materials as usual to ensure that you continue to have a wider learning experience.

Will members of staff still be paid if they take strike action?

A day’s pay (1/365 of total salary) will be withheld from employees for each day they go on strike. UCL will not benefit from pay deducted from staff taking action. This money will be put into a Learning Opportunities Fund which we will use to support students who have missed teaching or learning due to the industrial action. We anticipate this being in April 2020.

What will happen about examinations and results?

The two principles that we work to in addressing any problems with examinations and assessments (whether caused by industrial action or for other reasons) are: being fair to students, and ensuring the integrity of our academic standards. 

Should there be any impact on your examinations or the marking of your assessed work, UCL will do its utmost to ensure that you are not disadvantaged. UCL knows about the classes that have not taken place due to the industrial action and will take this into account either in the exam paper that we set for you or when we consider your marks. Our examination boards have procedures that they can use to make these decisions. 

There is a possibility you may experience some delays in receiving your results if we are not able to complete all our marking and results approval processes in the usual way.

For further support with exams, see our Exam Success Guide.

What about coursework assessment?

Your department will advise you on arrangements for coursework assessment. These will vary from no change through to extensions to allow more time for you to submit the work.

What should I do if I have an assessment on a strike day?

You are expected to attend class tests and assessments that are scheduled on strike days.

What about labs that I have missed and in-class tests?

Your department will advise you on whether your labs or in-class tests will be rearranged to take place on a non-strike day, or whether they will be cancelled. If your lab was to be assessed or you had an in-class test and these cannot be rescheduled, we will discount these components from your overall module mark, in line with our regulations, so that you are not penalised as a result of the cancellation.

Do I need to submit an extenuating circumstances form?

You do not need to submit an extenuating circumstances form as we have information about the impact of the strike on your classes. This includes exams and coursework assessment.

Will I be penalised under the attendance policy where my classes were cancelled?

We will not penalise you for not attending classes that we have cancelled due to the industrial action. These classes will not count towards the 70% attendance requirement.

What if my classes were running but I choose not to cross the picket line and miss my class?

We would expect all students to attend classes where they are running; however, we will not penalise you under UCL’s attendance policy.

What if I am on a learning agreement but miss classes because I choose not to cross a picket line?

If you let your department know that you are absent for that reason, it will not count as a breach of the learning agreement.

I am a Tier 4 visa student – will I be penalised for not attending classes?

If you are a student on a Tier 4 visa you will not be penalised if you are unable to attend classes that have been cancelled due to the strike action. We will assume that you are engaged with your studies in other ways if your classes are not running.

I am a Postgraduate Research Student. How will I be affected?

Please assume that any viva examination (oral examination), upgrade meeting or other progression review meetings will go ahead as planned. However, we recommend that you contact your supervisor or department to confirm.

You should submit your thesis or any other work on schedule.

If an event you were due to teach at is cancelled, you will still be paid.

When will more information be available?

As far as possible, your department will try to inform you about changes to the teaching schedule through the usual channels, i.e. email and Moodle, but please remember that striking staff do not have to tell UCL in advance.

Throughout the period of action, you should:

  • Keep a close eye on your UCL emails and look out for Moodle page announcements. 
  • Stay informed by reading any updates sent to you and looking out for announcements in the media.

I’m worried that this may affect my mental health and wellbeing. Is there I someone I can talk to?

If you have any worries related to the industrial action that may affect your mental health and wellbeing, UCL's team of expert staff in Student Support and Wellbeing provide a safe, confidential and non-judgemental space, in which you can discuss any issues that concern or affect you. To find out more and access support, please visit the UCL website or contact us through askUCL.

Will student support services be affected?

Student Support and Wellbeing (SSW) will keep its services open as usual during the period of industrial action. Their drop-in service will continue to be available each UCL working day.

If you have a pre-arranged appointment with an SSW adviser or counsellor, please attend as usual.

Please note that SSW staff are unable to answer any administrative questions about the strike, such as whether or not your classes will be running or how the strike might affect your studies. In these cases, please contact your academic department.

Has your question been answered?

If you have any other questions that you would like to ask about the industrial action and its impact, please speak to staff in your local department who may be able to help. Alternatively, contact student-industrialaction@ucl.ac.uk.