Strike FAQs for students

More than a year ago

Got a question about the national pension dispute strikes? Find answers to frequently asked questions here or get in touch for more information

Planned strike action

Will further strikes take place?

The University and College Union (UCU) has announced their intention to call further strikes during the summer term, but no details are yet available. UCU can add additional strike days without a ballot before 19 July, subject to giving the statutory 14 days’ notice of the dates.

What happens to the money that would have been paid to striking staff?

Strike action, as a matter of law, involves a breach of an individual’s contract. Consequently, staff who decide to take part in strike action will not be entitled to contractual pay for the strike days. Lancaster will make no profit out of any withheld pay as all of that money will be spent on student projects such as the hardship fund or on directly related staff projects e.g. independent pension advice.

What do strikes involve?

If a strike takes place you should expect to see picket lines at a range of University entry points.

Picketers may, for example, wish to give you information about the dispute or ask you for your support. They are not, however, permitted to obstruct your path or prevent you from entering campus.

National pension dispute

Why has striking taken place?

Industrial action has taken place in more than 60 universities across the UK in response to planned reforms to USS – the main pension scheme for many staff in those universities.
USS is one of the largest private pension schemes for UK universities but it is in deficit due to rising costs of the scheme. 

As employers, universities pay a contribution rate of 18% - one of the most generous rates of any sector – and there is no proposal to cut this, so universities are not seeking to make financial savings here. 

To address the rising costs, proposals have been made to change pension benefits by Universities UK (UUK), a body representing all higher education institutions in the USS scheme and the staff union, UCU. At present, the two parties have not reached a consensus on the benefits changes.
What is the University’s position on the planned action?

The University recognises and shares staff concerns about the proposed changes to the pension scheme and the effect these could have on the benefits that members will accrue in the future. Before any changes are made to the scheme, there will be a 60-day period of consultation with members, at which point a full and detailed proposal will be sent to each member explaining the impact.

The University does not view strike action at this stage as being conducive to finding a resolution to the pension scheme issue because it is planned before the publication of the proposal for changes and the member consultation. 

There can be no doubt that there is substantial deficit in the pension scheme which has to be addressed, although disagreements over the actuarial valuation do not help the basis for negotiations. 

The way, and degree of flexibility, with which this problem can be addressed has depended directly on the position taken by the Pension Regulator and the USS Trustee, which is largely beyond the employers’ control. 

We were disappointed that the letter from the Regulator to the USS Trustee in September called for more de-risking of the scheme and their rating of the strength of the covenant was weaker than previously supposed. 

We believe this letter significantly limited the scope for flexibility as have the timescales imposed by the Regulator to reach an agreed position. Lancaster has always and continues to support a negotiated and sustainable solution that preserves the most advantageous benefits that can be within this context. 

Lancaster supports any pressure UUK, UCU and the USS Trustee can bring to bear on the Pension Regulator for an extended deficit recovery period, supported by a stronger evaluation of the financial covenant offered by the sector, thereby impacting on the required de-risking. 

UUK has clearly reiterated its position is to continue to be open to proposals for a solution from any source that are credible and affordable. Lancaster strongly welcomes this openness from UUK to new proposals and would certainly institutionally consider any such proposals that come forward.

Teaching

How will I be informed of any changes?

If further strike dates are scheduled, departments will assemble information on any potential changes to arrangements and they will aim to keep you updated as new information comes through. You should assume that all lectures, seminars etc will happen as scheduled unless you are told otherwise by your department. You will also be able to find University updates about industrial action via your student news channels: the Student Portal news site and My Lancaster newsletter.

Will any teaching be rescheduled after the end of summer term when some international students’ visas may have expired? 

Any arrangements will take factors such as term dates and international students’ visa dates into account.

Will students get a refund for missed classes?

We are aware that some students feel very strongly that they should be reimbursed or compensated for missed teaching. We are collecting detailed information to give an accurate picture about the actual level of impact on students – this will vary across different parts of the University. It will also take some time to understand what will be replaced and how. When we have a complete picture, we are committed to communicating our position and advice quickly and clearly with you as we understand that not knowing must be very frustrating. Our primary concern in the meantime is to mitigate the effect of the strikes wherever possible and minimise any disruption to you. We are working with departments to make alternative plans for course tuition and assessment where necessary and we have no reason to believe at this stage that any graduations will be delayed or that the action will prevent students completing their programmes of study.

If teaching sessions have been cancelled due to strike action could students on Tier 4 visas be penalised for not engaging with the University?

No. Missing a teaching session that has been cancelled due to strike action will not be considered non-engagement. 

Has attendance monitoring data been collected during the strike?

The attendance monitoring system remained active but the data collected for sessions affected by the strike will be discounted. 

Exams and assessment

If I have missed any course content due to industrial action is there a chance it could then appear on an exam? 

Students will not be assessed on content that has not been covered through teaching or directed learning for the course/module. Teaching/directed learning includes – but is not limited to – lectures, seminars, laboratory sessions, workshops, video capture and/or materials made available online through Moodle or other virtual learning environments. 

We are advising departments that they should seek to set assessments (e.g. exams, coursework or other assignments) which students have the best possible opportunity to complete based on the material covered through teaching/directed learning, whilst ensuring that the overall degree programme learning outcomes are met. 

If the delivery of a module or the content contained in an assessment are affected by the strike action, this will be taken into account, where appropriate, when the work is marked. At Exam Boards we will also have additional checks in place to ensure that any adverse effects of the industrial action are taken into account when considering students' results.

Graduation

Is there any risk of my graduation being delayed?

We have no reason to believe at this stage that any graduations will be delayed. You can find dates for graduations on the ceremonies page.

More information

Where can I get more information?

We will continue to quickly provide you with updates via the Student Portal as more details are released by the different groups involved. Your department will also provide specific information as it becomes known. In the meantime, if you have any questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to get in touch by emailing strikequeries@lancaster.ac.uk

To find out more about the issues you may like to see the news pages of the groups involved:

 

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