Welcome to the information page relating to the UCU Pension Strike. This page will be updated with new information on a regular basis to make you aware of any developments.
- 1. Latest updates
- 2. Background to the industrial action
- 3. Why is the Students’ Union supporting the action?
- 4. What exactly does it mean that the Students’ Union supports the strike?
- 5. What has the Students’ Union been doing to support students?
- 6. “My learning has been disrupted, what can I do about it?”
- 7. Where will the money go from striking staff?
- 8. “I want to complain about this situation and seek compensation/mitigating circumstances”
1. LATEST UPDATES
Thursday 10 May: The University and University of Manchester Students' Union have released a joint statement on the use of strike pay.
"The University has committed that it will not benefit financially from the strikes, but instead will make sure the money forgone from staff salaries will benefit students through new and additional activities. The University and University of Manchester Students' Union have discussed various options following wider student consultation and have resolved to use the deducted strike pay to:
1. waive the fee for graduation gown hire, around £50 per student, for graduation ceremonies in July and December 2018. We are working on details of how to reimburse those who have already paid for their July graduation gowns; and
2. investing in support for student well-being including those with mental ill-health. We agree that students' wellbeing is of paramount importance and wish to use the fund to promote joint actions around the prevention of mental health problems for students continuing their studies. Further details will follow once we have consulted with students and health experts.
The question of financial compensation was also discussed. The University has put in place measures to ensure that students are not disadvantaged by the strike action and can progress and graduate as planned. If any student remains dissatisfied, there are established appeal and complaint procedures that your school can advise you on.
The University Union Relations Committee also discussed other options and it was agreed that we would look at improving communications around the existing student hardship funds; explore an option for a postgraduate futures event in July and consider how we might extend careers advice for and with our alumni. These actions would not require strike pay funding."
Thursday 19 April: 'Industrial Action: Next Steps' meeting was hosted by the Students' Union to discuss the next steps in response to the effects of the industrial action.
Key points from the meeting:
- Students' Union staff members, including members from the Advice Service, Exec Team and Campaigns Team, talked to students about how they can effectively campaign, how the Students' Union has been lobbying on your behalf until now, and their rights in relation to compensation and complaints.
- The presentation slides can be viewed and downloaded here.
- The Students' Union will accept an emergency motion in Senate to decide how the pot of money saved by the University during the strikes might be best spent.
- Students can tweet the Mancunion using the hashtag #AskNancy so they can put questions to the Vice Chancellor directly.
- Any student who has opted out of SU marketing preferences will not have received the survey around compensation for students for the disruption to their studies. Students can opt back in by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Different schools may have different complaints processes. The Advice Service has provided a PDF with a complaints letter template and guidance here.
- It is advised that students follow the University internal procedures for complaints.
- The Students' Union have encouraged the campaign group Take Action UoM to apply for funding and support through the Students' Union. More information about how to campaign can be found below.
- The Campaign group 'Take Action UoM' will be meeting on Thursday 19 April to look at the aims of their campaign, including their aim to get clarity around the amount of money that the University has available for compensation as a consequence of the strike action.
Friday 13 April: Following negotiations between the two parties in recent weeks, an agreement has been reached to bring an end to the dispute. Members of the UCU voted to accept new proposals on pensions on Friday 13 April. This means the additional 5 strike days planned at the University of Manchester the week commencing Monday 16 April were called off.
2. Background to the industrial action
The industrial disputes relate to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) which is the pension scheme for around 65 older universities across the UK. In common with many pension schemes, there has been a major challenge to keep the benefits sustainable against a backdrop of poor economic conditions and an ageing population. The current pension arrangements have been in place for over 30 years, although the size and shape of the sector has changed radically during that time. There has been a lot of coverage in the last year about the size of the pension deficit building up in universities. Some have cited a doomsday scenario facing the sector, but this would rely on most universities in the scheme going bust and causing pension liabilities to have to be paid up front.
The specific changes to the USS pensions scheme proposed involved a switch from a defined benefit scheme, where a set income in retirement is guaranteed, to a defined contributions scheme where income will be dependent on how your ‘investments’ perform.
The two parties involved in the dispute were the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) through Universities UK who act on behalf of the universities as employers and the University and College Union (UCU) who represent academic staff as their trade union.
3. Why DID the Students’ Union support the action?
Over the last couple of years, issues of retrograde changes to higher education have been high on the agenda for our student leaders (student officers, course reps, etc.). We have debated policy on a whole range of things, from the rejection of the new Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) and its link to increasing fees, to the removal of key benefits to academic staff who support our education. Union Senate, our group of elected students and a random jury who set the direction of the Union, voted to support the industrial action relating to the pension dispute. We believe that well rewarded, well-motivated staff are the key ingredient for a high-quality education. Union Senate includes students representing courses, halls, clubs and societies, and student media.
Many of our students are currently considering a career in academia or university support services. We want to ensure these people are not put off these career paths that have real importance through groundbreaking research and discovery. It is also important to remember that a large number of our postgraduate students also have teaching roles and are affected by any changes to the terms of the USS scheme.
4. In practice, what exactly dID it mean that the Students' Union supported the strike?
In practical terms, this means that the Students’ Union:
- provided information and guidance to students about the ways they can support the strike.
- encouraged our student members that are also employed by the University to become members of UCU.
- urged the senior leadership team at the University to put pressure on Universities UK to negotiate with UCU.
- worked with the University to ensure that they communicate with students regarding the impact on students’ academic study; e.g. recommending the postponement of deadlines where appropriate.
- supported the UCU in their campaigning activity on strike days.
We also provided and will continue to provide support to any student or group wishing to campaign on either side of this issue. This includes resources, campaigning expertise and advice. For more information on this, please visit Manchester Students' Union Campaigns or contact email@example.com.
5. What has the Students’ Union been doing to support students?
Since the start of the industrial action, your Students’ Union Exec Officers have been regularly meeting with University senior staff and representatives of UCU. Specifically, the SU Exec Officers have been meeting with the University leadership to ensure:
- All students will be able to graduate as planned in the summer.
- Progression to new academic years will not be disrupted and exams should be held as normal.
- The University processes for assessing mitigating circumstances and academic appeals be agile enough to deal with the volume of expected applications.
- Ensuring that international student visas were protected in terms of attendance monitoring and other compliance issues.
- That the University find some way of compensating students for the disruption to their studies.
We are still working to ensure that students will not be assessed on content missed through strike days, although this is variable depending on which academic school it relates to. If any student is aware of assessments being set on missed learning content, please contact your head of school to highlight this.
6. “My learning has been disrupted, what can I do about it?”
Many students have been writing to us to highlight the impact the action has had on their learning over the past few weeks. We have been collating these complaints and highlighting the strength of opinion from all parts of the student community to the University’s Senior Leadership team. Whether you do or don’t support the strike, we acknowledge the damage the strike action may have caused to your education.
We encourage all students to continue to complain and demonstrate their individual circumstances to the University. This can be done via email or face to face in one of the school level meetings with Nancy Rothwell, President and Vice-Chancellor. These are real opportunities to make your voices heard directly with the University leadership.
The dates of these meetings are:
- School of Health Sciences, Wednesday 25 April 2018, 10.30 – 11.00am
- School of Earth & Environmental Sciences, Monday 30 April 2018, 10.30 – 11.00am
- School of Mathematics, Wednesday 9 May 2018, 10.30 – 11.00am
Meetings for the School of Social Sciences, School of Arts, Languages & Cultures and School of Biological Sciences have already taken place.
The University have made all podcasts and much lecture material from previous years available for academics to distribute to affected students. We would suggest you encourage your lecturers to release podcasts or lecture notes from previous years to help you catch up with any work missed. Some schools have already done this, but again local lobbying in your school will help. You can find out who your student reps are here:
Student Reps »
7. Where will the money go from striking staff?
One of the key principles we secured from an early stage is that the University will not benefit financially from striking staff. Staff do not receive pay for any days that they are on strike. Any money recovered will be used to benefit students in some way. Following a survey we put out to students recently, we have received thousands of responses suggesting how this money might best be spent. The most common priorities included:
- 1. Payment of graduation costs for all final year undergraduate and postgraduate students
- 2. Additional investment into learning resources
- 3. Funding for wellbeing activities to support student physical and mental health
- 4. Additional investment into the student hardship fund
We will take forward these priorities to discuss with the University and will continue lobbying to ensure these are implemented in the fairest way, with the maximum benefit for students. Once we have agreed a course of action with the University, a joint statement will be issued explaining the outcome as soon as possible. If you would still like to influence this process then please contact firstname.lastname@example.org and request that your email be forwarded to an Exec Officer.
8. “I want to complain about this situation and seek additional compensation/mitigating circumstances”
If your ability to study, complete coursework or exam performance is negatively affected by external factors outside your control, this is known as a “mitigating circumstance”. If your performance is, or is likely to be affected by outside factors, you have the right to ask for those to be taken into account when your work is being assessed. It is essential to let the University know as soon as you can about any issues so that they can be taken into account when decisions are made about matters, such as time extensions, academic results or progression.
If you feel the industrial action negatively affected your ability to study, complete coursework or exam performance you may want to go down this route. You can get professional, independent, confidential advice on this process from the Students’ Union Advice Service by emailing email@example.com or visiting them on the first floor of the Students’ Union between 10am-4pm Monday to Friday. Information on the formal process for making complaints to the University of Manchester can be found at:
The University of Manchester Students Complaints Procedure: Regulation XVIII »
Some students may wish to seek further redress through legal action, or application for compensation. It is very difficult to advise on this course of action as the impact on each student will be very different. It is also very challenging to prove this on a case by case basis. Again, the Students' Union Advice Service will be able to help further on this matter. Each university is looking at this situation completely differently, and it is very difficult to compare approaches at this stage.
If you have any further questions about the industrial action, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.