The Best Student Life. Bristol SU

UCU Strike information

April 2018 Update

Members of UCU have voted on the new USS pension proposal put forward after further negotiations with UUK. The results have been announced: UCU members have voted to accept the proposal. This means that there will be no further industrial action this summer.

We are very aware that the strike action has caused anxiety and disruption for all concerned, particularly in the lead up to assessments. The university will be hosting a series of assessment workshops to help you understand the University's processes around assessment methods, marking, moderation and mitigation. If you have further questions you can also contact your course rep or our Just Ask advice team.

Based on the consultation we held before Easter, the university have used your suggestions to create an additional student support package which is being funded by the salaries withheld during the recent industrial action to benefit current students.

You can find more information about the strikes, what Bristol SU is doing, and how you might be affected at the bottom of this page.

February 2018

University of Bristol staff, along with lecturers and university professionals across the country, are currently involved in an industrial dispute over proposed changes to their pensions. Our lecturers have already taken fourteen days of strike action. This will disrupt our teaching and learning, but nonetheless students have voted overwhelmingly to support our lecturers, as well as our postgraduate students who teach.

We believe that fair working conditions for staff are the foundation for good learning conditions for students. We are also concerned that the proposed pension changes will disproportionately affect young lecturers and new career starters, including Bristol SU’s own members who are hoping to become academics or administrators. 

Bristol SU will be working with the University of Bristol and UCU to ensure our students and our lecturers are properly supported throughout the period of the industrial dispute.

More info about the strikes

+ What is the strike about?

Universities UK (an organisation that represents Universities) has proposed an end to guaranteed pension benefits for lecturers and professional staff in Universities. This means lecturers’ final pensions will not get a guaranteed income on retirement but instead depend on how their ‘investments’ perform - this could cost the average lecturer over £10,000 a year in retirement. The strikes challenge these changes to pensions. University and College Union (UCU) is a trade union negotiating on behalf of our lecturers - UCU Bristol announced over 90% support for strikes who are taking strike action as a last resort.

+ When are the strike days?

Strikes have already taken place on the following days:

  • Thursday 22 and Friday 23 February
  • Monday 26th to Wednesday 28th February
  • Monday 5th to Thursday 8th March
  • Monday 12th to Friday 16th March

UCU have now accepted the proposal put forward by UUK and there will be no further strike action, including action short of a strike.

+ What is action short of a strike?

Action short of a strike means that staff will not be doing any work beyond what is required to fulfil their contract; this includes not working extra hours, not covering for absent colleagues, not rescheduling lectures or classes cancelled due to strike action and not undertaking any voluntary activities. Bristol SU supports the University decision to ask staff that are taking action short of a strike to prioritise the following work: (1) supporting student wellbeing, (2) preparing and delivering teaching, (3) marking and feedback on assessments.

+ Will all staff be on strike?

Only UCU members can strike, so not all Bristol staff will be on strike. Lecturers do no have to notify the University before they go on strike so we cannot know exactly who will strike on any given day but most lecturers will let you know if your teaching is going to be cancelled.

More info about what the su is doing

+ Does Bristol SU support the strikes?

Yes, we believe that fairly rewarded staff are the cornerstone of the university experience and that it is vital for students to come together to support our lecturers, as well as our postgraduate students who teach.

+ How did Bristol SU come to this position?

We asked students whether we should support the strike through our Education and Postgraduate Networks, which are our main democratic forums for issues related to education and are open to all students. 78% of respondents were either completely in support of the strike, or supportive of the strike with concerns about the impact it would have on their studies. Students also overwhelmingly backed a motion to support the strikes at our Annual Members’ Meeting in February.

+ What is the SU doing to support students whose teaching and learning is disrupted by the strikes?

Bristol SU officers and staff meet with UCU representatives and University staff at least weekly to discuss the strikes. In these meetings, we aim to make sure no student is unfairly disadvantaged by the strike.

This means we will:

  • Work with the University to ensure that students’ assessments aren’t unfairly impacted (by recommending extensions to coursework or changes to exam content)
  • Ask that staff prioritise the following activities when they are in work: support for student wellbeing, teaching, and marking assessments
  • Ensure that withheld pay is spent to support current students

However, we will not take action that might undermine the strike, for example, asking that missed teaching is rescheduled.

If you feel that your studies have been unfairly disadvantaged by the strike, you can seek advice from our independent team of advisors in Just Ask.

+ What is the SU doing to support lecturers who are striking?

Throughout the industrial dispute, Bristol SU will:

  • Encourage students to support the strike action, including by not crossing the picket line
  • Provide campaign support and funding to student led solidarity actions
  • Encourage postgraduate students to become members of UCU
  • Urge the senior management team at the University to put pressure on Universities UK to negotiate with UCU. (Following requests from staff and students, Vice-Chancellor Hugh Brady called for UUK to return to the negotiating table in February - read his statement here.)
+ What can I do to support lecturers who are striking?

The most basic thing you can do to support the strikes is to not cross the picket line on strike days.

You could also:

  • Like UCU Bristol on Facebook and attend any rallies or teach-outs that are advertised
  • Write to the Vice-Chancellor asking him to listen to staff concerns and agree to a decent guaranteed pension - it’s quick and you can do it here
  • Join UCU if you are a postgraduate student
+ Why isn't the SU asking the University to use withheld pay to reimburse tuition fees?

Bristol SU is not asking the University to use withheld pay to reimburse tuition fees for a number of reasons:

  • Asking for reimbursement of fees might signal to the University that we are not truly supportive of the strikes and thus weaken the bargaining power of lecturers who are striking
  • Tuition fees do not just cover teaching staff’s wages; they contribute towards the cost of University buildings, libraries, software and labs, running student services (careers, counselling etc.), research that keeps our teaching up-to-date etc.. With this in mind, reimbursing students for missed teaching is unlikely to be as financially beneficial as some students imagine (if split equally between all students the withheld pay would likely amount to less than £10 each).
  • For UK students, even if you were reimbursed, it is likely that your tuition fee money would go straight back to the Student Loans Company. We believe that withheld pay will more greatly benefit students if it is reinvested in services that students can use now.

We have asked the University to invest all withheld pay to benefit current students and we have consulted students on exactly what this should include. Based on the consultation the university have used your suggestions to create an additional student support package which is being funded by the salaries withheld during the recent industrial action.

More info about how the strikes might affect students

+ Will the strikes affect my lectures, seminars and tutorials?

Only some lectures, seminars and tutorials will be cancelled due to strike action. Regardless of whether your lecture, seminar or tutorial is cancelled, we encourage students not to cross the picket line on strike days.

+ I am a student and I don’t want to cross the picket line. Where does that leave me?

Picket lines are likely to be peaceful and friendly. We encourage you not to cross them in order to show solidarity with our lecturers. If you do not cross the picket line, the University expects you to take personal responsibility for missed teaching and learning.

On strike days, you can also participate in solidarity actions and teach-outs advertised on UCU Bristol Facebook.

+ Are university facilities, libraries and study spaces still open?

Yes, all University buildings are planned to be open as usual.

+ Will student services (e.g. the health service or careers) still be open and available?

Some student services staff may be members of UCU and on strike but the services will generally remain open. If individual appointments are cancelled, you will usually receive an email to let you know in advance.

+ Will the strikes affect my exams or assessments?

Bristol SU is working with the University to make arrangements for students where missed teaching due to strike action may affect their exams or assessments. This might include coursework extensions or changed exam content.

You should receive communications from your School to explain any alternative arrangements for your exams or assessments. If you are worried about the impact that the strikes might have on your exams or assessments, please contact staff within your school in the first instance.

The university will be hosting a series of assessment workshops to help you understand the University's processes around assessment methods, marking, moderation and mitigation. The University have also created an additional student support package which is being funded by the salaries withheld during the recent industrial action. If you have further questions you can also contact your course rep or our Just Ask advice team.

+ I am an international student - will the strikes affect my visa?

Your visa should not be affected by strikes. If your lecturers are on strike, you will be given an authorised absence with a note to say that your absence is due to strikes. If you lecturers are not on strike, attendance monitoring will continue as normal.

If you are worried that the strikes will impact on your visa, please contact the University’s International Student Visa Advisers. They run drop-in sessions Monday to Friday 1.30pm - 4pm on the Ground Floor of Senate House, or you can contact them through the visas website.

+ I am a PhD student - will the strikes affect my viva?

If you have a viva that is scheduled for a strike day, the University should email you on an individual basis to let you know whether the viva will be taking place. You should assume that your viva will go ahead unless you hear otherwise.

+ Can I get financial compensation for the teaching I have missed as a result of strikes?

Students are entitled to seek compensation for missed teaching through a formal complaint to the University or legal action. There is no guarantee that claims for compensation will be successful as the Student Agreement outlines that the University is not liable in the case of strikes if they have taken reasonable care to prevent them happening. Our Just Ask team can help you place a complaint with the University but are not able to offer legal advice.

We are aware some solicitors are offering to support students to make group claims for compensation. We are not in a position to recommend these solicitors to students and would caution students against joining ‘no win no fee’ group claims without seeking advice on the terms and conditions of the agreement to ensure that you are not landed with unexpected costs.

+ I feel like the strikes are stressing me out and affecting my mental health. What can I do?

Make sure you take time to de-stress and talk about what's bothering you with those around you. The student counselling service have lots of tools for relaxation and stress management that you can find here.

You may also want to speak to someone within the University and you can find details of the support available here: https://www.bristol.ac.uk/students/wellbeing/.

If you feel that your mental health is affecting your studies, please speak to a Just Ask advisor or your personal tutor.

+ I feel that I have been unfairly disadvantaged by the strikes - what can I do about this?

Bristol SU is working closely with University of Bristol staff to ensure that no student should be unfairly disadvantaged by the strike - for example, to make sure that students who have missed out on teaching can get changes or extensions to their assessments. The university will be hosting a series of assessment workshops to help you understand the University's processes around assessment methods, marking, moderation and mitigation.

However, if you feel that you have been unfairly impacted by the strikes, you can speak to one of our Just Ask advisors who can advise you on how to tell the University about any extenuating circumstances, submit a complaint, or even appeal a final result.

To contact a Just Ask advisor, please email bristolsu-justask@bristol.ac.uk.

I still have questions

If you would like more information on how the strike action is affecting University teaching and services, please see the University’s FAQs for students

If you would like more information on the pensions dispute and how to support our lecturers, please see UCU’s web pages about the strikes.

To contact a Bristol SU Officer to discuss the impact of the strike on students, please email your Undergraduate Education Officer, mason.ammar@bristol.ac.uk, or your Postgraduate Officer, shubham.singh@bristol.ac.uk.

For further advice on what to do if the strikes are affecting your studies, please email bristolsu-justask@bristol.ac.uk.