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The Universities and Colleges Union (UCU) have called a strike at 58 universities including UCL from Wednesday 1 December to Friday 3 December.

What is going on?

58 UK Universities will be impacted by strike action. The University and College Union (UCU), the nationwide trade union representing academic and support staff, has announced 3 days of industrial action over the future of the pension scheme, pay and conditions.

As well as the three-day strike, staff at 64 universities have a mandate to take action short of strike. This will also begin on Wednesday 1 December and will include strictly working to contract and refusing any additional duties. This is set to go on indefinitely for the five months staff have a mandate to take industrial action for.

UCU has said the three-day strike will just be the start of sustained disruption for the sector if employers fail to negotiate.

UCU wrote to employer representatives, Universities UK and the Universities and Colleges Employers Association, setting out how universities could avoid strike action before Christmas. UCU is asking for pension cuts to be revoked; and for employers to improve their pay offer and commit to meaningful agreements and action on casualisation, workload, and equality pay gaps.

What this means for you?

It is difficult to predict how you will be affected, particularly ahead of time. UCU represents staff across a variety of academic and professional services roles, but not all staff are members. Staff who choose to strike do not have to tell UCL of their intention beforehand and they may not commit to all three days.

This industrial action could mean that your classes or lectures are cancelled or that labs and spaces are closed or have limited availability. You may also find that offices and student support services are not fully staffed on strike days.

You may see a picket line of UCU members outside some UCL buildings. Staff may ask you not to cross their picket line, but they are not allowed to prevent you from entering buildings.

When is the UCU strike happening?

Three days in total:

  • Wednesday 1 December
  • Thursday 2 December
  • Friday 3 December

Does the Students' Union support the strike?

In October, Union Executive voted not to support strike action by UCU.

We’ve fully supported strike action in the past, most recently in 2019-20. It was the right thing to do. But the last three years have been significantly disrupted, first by strikes and then by Covid. Students are at breaking point, with a significant impact on mental health, loneliness, and isolation. We urgently need to repair and rebuild the communities so damaged over the past few years. But this doesn’t seem to be part of the discussion.

Students are hit hard during disputes between UCL and UCU. Strikes lead to lost learning, delayed teaching, increased assignment stress – students suffer as a way to add pressure on UCL during negotiations. As our learning environment is the working environment for academic staff, we usually accept this disruption and the challenges it brings. But this year is different.

Will Students' Union buildings and services be open?

Yes, all Union buildings, cafes, bars and the gym will be open as usual. If you arrive on campus to find your lecture cancelled, our spaces are open for you to study.​

Can I still attend / run a club or society event during the strike?

Yes. The strikes are unlikely to impact your events. Students' Union buildings and facilities will be open as usual. If you're running an event with a guest speaker who is participating in the strike, please contact the Activities team who'll be able to advise on the next steps. They're on su.activities-reception@ucl.ac.uk

Will I be penalised for missing a class because I chose not to cross the picket line?

You will not be penalised if you miss class becuase you have chosen not to cross the picket line.

Will Tier 4 visa students be penalised for not attending classes? 

If you are on student visa you will not be penalised if you are unable to attend classes that have been cancelled due to the strike action.  

Students with a student visa who are affected by cancelled lectures or teaching events should be advised to report to the Teaching Administrator in their department so that they can demonstrate that they are continuing to engage with their programme of study. A record of this contact should be kept by the Departmental Teaching Administrator as evidence.  

Will I get a refund on my fees for the classes that are cancelled?

The UCL-Student Relationship Terms and Conditions defines your rights and responsibilities under the contract you made with UCL when you accepted the offer to study at UCL.

Section 4 deals with unplanned changes to your course:

Occasionally UCL may need to make changes to or cancel part of or an entire Programme due to circumstances that are beyond its reasonable control. This could include ... industrial action, over or under demand for courses or modules, lack of funding, non-availability of suitable staff, severe weather, fire, civil disorder, political unrest and government restrictions​.

If UCL take the position that the industrial action is a circumstance ‘beyond its reasonable control’ it is unlikely that refunds will be offered to any students.  Students can contact our Advice Service for further assistance; however the advice available will be limited until the full impact of the industrial action is known (including whether departments are rescheduling teaching and learning opportunities missed during this period).

More information on UCL’s terms and conditions can be found here.

What do I do if my learning is affected?

During the 2020 strike, UCL established a Learning Opportunities Fund for students to help mitigate the impact of the strikes, students were able to apply for £250.

We expect UCL to establish a similar fund for strikes in 2021.

You will, however, not be assessed on any academic content that was not properly covered due to strike action.

Extenuating Circumstances - what can I do if the strike affects my learning?

You do not need to submit an extenuating circumstances form as UCL have information about the impact of the strike on your classes. This includes exams and coursework assessment. 

For more support on the above or any other academic problem, our Advice Service is here to help. You can also contact our Advice Service using our contact form. More on UCL’s extenuating circumstances policy can be found here (scroll down the page).

What to do if you need to access support services during the strike?

We want to remind students that to access support services like Student Support and Wellbeing, you don’t have to cross the picket lines if you don't want to. Almost all services are available remotely if you do not want to physically cross the picket line.

How can you find out whether your classes are affected?

As far as possible your department will try to inform you about changes to the teaching schedule through the usual channels, i.e. email and Moodle, but please remember that striking staff do not have to tell UCL in advance.

Throughout the period of action, you should:

  • Keep a close eye on your UCL emails and look out for Moodle page announcements. 
  • Stay informed by following the links in this update and looking out for announcements in the media.

What is a picket line like at UCL?

A picket line is a boundary established by staff who are on strike. At UCL, this is usually 3-4 staff standing outside entrances to buildings. Other staff and students will be asked not to cross these picket lines, as to do so may be considered to be undermining the strike. It is your personal choice as to whether you want to cross the picket line, staff cannot stop you from entering campus or campus buildings.

Do staff on strike get paid?

When staff go on strike they forfeit their pay. This is a hugely difficult decision for staff to make. The money that UCL doesn't pay to staff due to strike action is put into a Learning Opportunities Fund which will be used to support students who have missed teaching or learning due to the strike action and to offset the disruption caused. 

Can I support the strike? 

That's completely up to you. Here are some of the ways you can support staff on strike:

  • Be supportive of striking staff, they are doing this as a last resort. They’re fighting Universities UK (the representative body for Universities in the UK) and any frustrations you might feel should be directed to their door. 

  • If you can, don’t cross picket lines. If you can work from home, in other public spaces or in the SU Bloomsbury Building or the SU Lewis Building, if you can re-arrange meetings to meet via skype - do it. It’s the easiest way to show your support.

  • Attend teach-outs. Many of our academic staff will be holding lectures in public spaces near campus. Attend, learn and support their cause.
  • Join staff on picket lines. Each morning from 7:00, staff will gather outside the UCL front gates, coordinators from UCU will organise strikers for different buildings. If you want to join them, feel free.