Why are some lecturers striking?
Keele’s lecturers, alongside lecturers all over the country, have been balloting for industrial action over their pensions. At Keele, 85.1% voted in support of strike action. This is not a decision that your lecturers are taking lightly. They care passionately about your education. The formal negotiations are still ongoing but it looks increasingly likely that strike action will be taken, more details about the days of strike action can be found here.
The changes proposed to their pensions would mean that being an academic would become a much less appealing profession and lecturers would have to work until much later in their life in order to retire with a half decent pension. On average academics will be around 10k a year worse off when they retire because of these changes.
Compared to the private sector, University staff are not paid that well at all. Therefore these changes will reduce the amount of young and talented people teaching students and increase the number of lecturers who would need to teach far into what is currently retirement age.
If this change is allowed to go ahead then teaching quality nationally will get significantly worse for all University students over time.
This is why KeeleSU has an active policy to support strike action.
Keele University is not in a position to resolve this dispute locally however they have the ability to influence ongoing negotiations. The changes proposed are based on projections that are not certain at all. In fact, it’s validity has been disputed by various experts and analysts. The Vice Chancellors of Warwick, Glasgow, and Birkbeck have already stated publicly that the proposed changes would have serious consequences for universities and has asked for the proposals to be redrawn. We asked that the Vice Chancellor issue a similar statement. He eventually released a statement and while he didn't go so far as to call from the proposals to be thrown out - he highlighted the importance of protecting as much of the defined benefit in the scheme as possible and called for negotiations to continue (link here).
UCU responded by stating:
"Keele UCU welcomes the VC's statement acknowledging the urgent need to re-engage with negotiations on proposed changes to the pension scheme (University Superannuation Scheme; USS). These proposed changes will substantially alter the nature of academic employment and, as a result, fundamentally undermine standards in UK higher education.
However, it is important to be clear that Universities UK (management) and USS did not ‘find’ the deficit. Rather, they created it by changing the basis on which investments have been made. With the recent confirmation that Oxbridge colleges accounted for one-third of the 42% of UK employers who wanted lower risk, we now have grave concerns about fiscal (mis)management of the pension scheme. Together, these issues call into question the competency of UUK and USS to lead strategically both during and after this dispute. We call, therefore, for an immediate engagement with ACAS.
We believe that the Vice Chancellor can encourage those of his peers who have not already done so to challenge the official UUK position and to engage with ACAS at the earliest opportunity."
When will this happen?
The Universities & Colleges Union (UCU) have announced 14 days of staggered strike action over four weeks on the following days:
Week one - Thursday 22 and Friday 23 February (two days)
Week two - Monday 26, Tuesday 27 and Wednesday 28 February (three days)
Week three - Monday 5, Tuesday 6, Wednesday 7 and Thursday 8 March (four days)
Week four - Monday 12, Tuesday 13, Wednesday 14, Thursday 15 and Friday 16 March (five days)
It’s worth noting that if the dispute comes to a resolution before these days the strike action will finish earlier than is outlined here.
Will all lecturers be on strike?
No. Not all staff are members of the UCU and not all of those who are will go on strike or strike for the full length outlined by the UCU.
Will I be told ahead of time if my lecturer isn't going to be in?
The UCU have advised their members to tell students ahead of time if they will be on strike, however, there is no guarantee that every staff member will do this.
I'm worried about assessments!
The President of Keele's UCU branch has said that she will recommend all their members remove any compulsory assessment questions on subjects that have not been taught. However, this is not a guarantee that it will happen across all subjects.
In order to cover this eventuality, we have written an open letter to the Vice Chancellor asking that strike action be considered an 'exceptional circumstance' for the purposes of assessments. This would allow all students who have been affected by the action more time to complete assessments.
The University responded with this:
"Will I be assessed on any of the information that I would have been taught in cancelled sessions if these are not rescheduled?
We will not expect you to be assessed on areas that you were scheduled to be taught but were not taught due to strike action. As we expect all missed sessions to be rescheduled, wherever possible, we expect very few topics to be missed. However, it may be that these topics will not be identified until after exam papers are set, as exam setting occurs early in the semester in order to provide time for external examiners to scrutinise the papers and for them to be printed. If a question(s) is set on a topic that is not subsequently taught, invigilators will be instructed to advise you which question(s) on the exam paper should not be attempted.
If you think you have been assessed on material that has not been taught due to cancelled sessions, then you are eligible to submit ECs.
What happens if I have an assessment on a strike day?
If your assessment falls on a day of strike action, unless you are advised that it is not going ahead, you should attend this as normal. However, if the assessment is not able to proceed due to staff absence, we accept that this is an exceptional circumstance and adjustments will be made on your behalf. There is no need to submit an individual EC claim in this case
What if I have an assignment submission deadline on a strike day?
Your ability to submit your work, electronically or in hard copy, should not be affected by strike action and therefore, for an EC claim to be successful for these assessments, you would have to clearly demonstrate how the strike action prevented you from submitting your assignment on time."
More information on assessments and teaching can be found on the University's information page here.
What's a picket line? What does crossing it mean? What will they be doing on there?
A picket line is a boundary established by people on strike, usually at the entrance to the place of work, which others are asked not to cross. As Keele is a campus University, there are many legitimate reasons to enter campus and Keele's UCU branch have stated that they fully expect and support students who wish to come onto campus to study. We will be advising Student Voice Representatives to facilitate setting up study groups, you may choose to engage with these or set up your own for modules affected by strike action.
You may choose to show support for your lecturers by not going to non-compulsory lectures or seminars on strike days.
It would be very much appreciated if students went to visit the picket line to show support for their lecturers.
The line itself will be by the traffic lights at the front entrance to campus and at the back entrance to campus by the village.
The UCU will be protesting on the picket line on:
Thursday 22nd of Feb
Friday 23rd of Feb
Monday 26th of Feb
Tuesday 6th of March
Wednesday 14th of March
Friday 16th of March
On each picket line day, the UCU will meet there in the morning, walk to the centre of campus at around 11 and present a student petition asking for negotiations to continue so the strike can end to the Vice Chancellor's Office.
I'm on a tier 4 visa!
The strike should not impact your compliance with your visa as the University run a system where absences are recorded rather than attendance.
If a class doesn't take place, no absence will be noted and therefore this will not adversely affect a student's attendance monitoring.
Can I have my tuition fees back?
Keele have a specific clause in their 'student agreement', that states:
"The University will do all that it reasonably can to provide educational services as described in the prospectus, on the website, or in other documents issued by it, to appropriately Enrolled students. Sometimes circumstances beyond the control of the University mean that it cannot provide the educational services described. Examples of such circumstances include: ... Industrial Action by University staff "
Even within consumer law, which University and students are to some extent covered by, there's not much clarity on what is and is not expected. A student from Oxford took his University to court after his tutor was absent during his final semester. The court ruled against him.
The University has released a full statement on this issue stating directly that they do not think students will be entitled to compensation. They also stated that they are aiming for no student to be disadvantaged by the strike (you can read their full response here).
What happens to the pay that lecturers will not receive?
While it's true that lecturers will not be receiving pay for any days they are on strike (this money is called a ‘strike fund’) their pay is far from the only cost associated with running a university each day. In fact many of the other services offered by the University will still be open and accessible on strike days. If the strike fund was split between every single student for the time they missed in this dispute, it would not amount to very much per student at all - probably something around £5 - 18 but this is difficult to judge accurately.
What happens to this strike fund remains unclear, in the past it has gone to the SU but it may also go to other 'student facing' causes. If it does end up in the hands of the SU we will do all we can to make sure that ALL students benefit.
How else can I support my lecturers and help end this dispute?
If your tutors and lecturers are going on strike, send them a message to let them know that you support them.
Talk to other students about the strike and why it matters.
The only way this strike will end in victory for lecturers is if a resolution can be found on the issue of pensions. The UCU has produced an online tool you can use to write an email to the relevant staff members at Keele asking them to help resolve the dispute and return to negotiations (link here).
- The UCU will be running 'teach in' events throughout the strike action period that you will be able to attend. The first of these events is called 'Decolonising Education: Why is My Curriculum White?'. It will be on Wednesday 28th of February from 3pm to 5:30pm on the ground floor of the SU.
If you have any more questions or concerns about this strike action, please get in touch with myself (firstname.lastname@example.org) or your Education Officer (email@example.com).