UCU industrial action information for students 2021

A period of industrial action is set to begin at the University on Wednesday 1 December 2021. We’ve pulled together some questions and answers to help you understand what this means for you.

What is industrial action? 

Industrial action is a way for staff to resolve a dispute with their employer, and can be in the form of a strike (where staff members don’t work at all) or ‘action short of a strike (ASOS) (where staff members work, but in a more limited way than usual). Industrial action is organised by trade unions, who hold ballots (or votes) of their members to decide what action to take, and is a democratic right under UK law. 

You can learn more about industrial action and strikes on the government website.  

When is it happening? 

Three days of strike action are planned for Wednesday 1, Thursday 2 and Friday 3 December 2021.   

Action short of strike (ASOS) will take place from Wednesday 1 December continuously until no later than Tuesday 3 May 2022. At present ASOS will mean UCU members only work their contracted hours and duties and won’t volunteer to do more.

Why is it happening? 

The University and College Union (UCU) announced industrial action at 58 universities after a ballot of its members at the start of November. The industrial action is about two key themes - proposed changes to the pension scheme that staff at the University of Leeds (and many other UK universities) pay into, and pay and other related issues.  

What is the University doing to resolve it? 

Most of the other issues in dispute are already being tackled by the University. We are already taking action to address UCU’s concerns about staff workload and casual contracts with our Fairer Future For All pledges.  

However, the future of the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) pension can only be resolved at a national level because USS isn’t part of our University. It can only be resolved through negotiations with USS and its members, which includes the University of Leeds and many other universities. An employee consultation is open until Monday 17 January 2022, to allow scheme members and eligible employees to share any comments or concerns about the proposed changes to the scheme. 

Are all staff taking part? 

No, just members of staff who are members of UCU, which includes academic, professional and managerial staff, plus some postgraduates. While staff don’t have to tell us if they’re a union member, based on the last time industrial action took place in 2019/20, we know that only a minority of academic, professional and managerial staff actually took part in industrial action.  

You may see staff on picket lines on campus, but these will be peaceful protests that should not have any impact on you. Staff may also be taking part in ASOS, which means working their contracted hours and not volunteering to take on additional duties. This is planned to last until May 2022. 

While UCU has so far only given notice of strikes in December 2021, they have a mandate for further strikes which may be called before May 2022. The union needs to give us advance notice of when they plan to take any strike action, so we will keep you informed of any further developments. 

What do I need to do as a student? 

Our priority is to minimise any disruption to your education and learning experience. As you may know or have seen for yourself, we’ve kept the University open throughout previous strikes, most recently in 2019-20.   

Staff don’t need to let the University know if they plan to go on strike until after it’s taken place, but wherever possible your school or teaching staff will let you know in advance if any sessions are likely to be disrupted. Your school will be in touch to let know how any teaching that is missed as a result of industrial action will be made up. If you have any concerns, contact your school or programme support team in the first instance. 

It’s important to: 

  • Check your University email and Minerva regularly to make sure you have up-to-date information about any rescheduled sessions and activities 
  • Attend all sessions that are rescheduled after the strike period 
  • Check with your School or speak to Leeds University Union Advice if you have any concerns. 

I’m a postgraduate researcher. How will the industrial action affect me?  

Firstly, you should talk to your supervisor, who should be able to advise you what impact, if any, the industrial action will have on your work. Otherwise, you can approach your graduate school or the Doctoral College. You can also speak to the Help and Support Team in Leeds University Union. If you are a PGR who is part of UCU, our FAQs for staff may offer more guidance. 

Can I carry out laboratory work during the industrial action? 

You should only carry out lab or fieldwork if your supervisor or head of school has confirmed that adequate arrangements are in place to protect your health and safety. If in doubt, speak to your supervisor or the student support office in your school. 

What if my coursework deadline is during the industrial action? 

You should submit your work in the usual way on the date specified unless you are notified otherwise. If you have any concerns about this, please contact your school. 

What if I can’t complete my assignment because my teaching is incomplete because of the strike? 

Each school is taking steps to ensure that students are assessed based on the learning activities that have been delivered, so you should complete any assignments based on what you’ve learned. 

Will assessments be affected? 

Assessments will not be affected, because any missed teaching should be made up in other ways, to ensure that you are able to meet the learning outcomes for your modules and courses. If you are unsure, please contact your school or programme support team. 

Will my attendance record be affected because of cancelled teaching activities? 

Your attendance record will not be affected as you are not held responsible for cancelled activities. You are expected to attend as normal unless you have been told in advance of any cancelled activities. You should also attend any rescheduled activities and continue to do your coursework/reading etc. throughout the strike period and industrial action.  

What do I do if I want to make a complaint? 

We’re doing everything we can to ensure that you won’t be disadvantaged by the industrial action, and that plans are made to deliver any missed learning opportunities. Your School should be able to resolve any concerns, please contact them in the first instance. However, if you aren’t happy with this resolution, you can email studentcomplaints@leeds.ac.uk. We will then provide further information about how to make a complaint. 

The Office for Students provides further guidance for students affected by industrial action.   

Are the libraries and other services still open? 

Libraries, computer clusters and other services will still be available during the industrial action. For opening times, please check individual websites (libraries, careers service, LUU, support and wellbeing, The Edge). 

Where do I go if I need support? 

You can speak to your academic personal tutor (if available), the student support team in your school or the Help and Support team in the Leeds University Union. You can find links to all of the University’s support services here. 

What communications have been sent to students?