You may be aware that, alongside some 60 universities across the country, our University will experience industrial action by some members of the University & College Union (UCU) from Thursday 22 February.
I would like to apologise to you for this, let you know how the University will endeavour to ensure your studies are not adversely affected and set out some of the background to the issue. The University has also published a series of questions and answers to help you, which we will update as new information becomes available.
Most importantly, you should know that the University will remain open throughout the industrial action, and we expect the majority of teaching and learning activity to proceed as usual. Please assume that your lectures, seminars and other classes are taking place unless notified otherwise.
While I respect the rights of staff to peaceful protest, including industrial action, our priority as a University will be to ensure that we do everything we can to minimise disruption to our thousands of students and the many other staff who do not wish to participate in industrial action.
When is the industrial action?
The UCU has announced a series of strikes at Nottingham and some 60 other universities across 22-23 and 26-28 February, and 5-8 and 12-16 March. Action short of a strike will run from 22 February to 19 June 2018, where UCU members are asked by the union to work to contract.
What will happen during industrial action?
We expect the majority of teaching and assessment to take place as planned. More than 75% of our academic staff are not members of the University & College Union. Even so, where a member of staff takes industrial action on one day, it should not be assumed that they will continue to do so on other days.
It is therefore important that you assume all activities are going ahead, including the supervision of projects and dissertations, and that you attend as planned, unless you hear otherwise from your lecturer or School. Similarly, you should continue to submit assignments to existing deadlines.
We are working with Schools to ensure that they communicate with you effectively, and make plans to recover disrupted learning activities, maintain assessment deadlines and look at where revised deadlines might be helpful. As further information becomes available, your School will advise you.
Our libraries, computer rooms, and other learning environments and services will be available as normal throughout the period to enable you to continue your studies and independent learning.
Where sessions are likely to experience disruption, your Schools will endeavour to give you advance notice where at all possible. However, staff do not have to inform the University in advance that they intend to take industrial action, so this might not be possible in every case.
Can I request compensation or a refund of fees?
I appreciate this is a question that has received some recent media attention, and indeed has been raised by a number of students at Nottingham. Our priority as a University is to ensure that the industrial action does not adversely affect our students, and given the actions we are taking to minimise disruption, circumstances giving rise to a right to financial compensation are unlikely to arise.
Of course, students can raise complaints through our Student Complaints Policy, and can also contact the Students’ Union for advice. Usually this will be when a student has evidence in support of the complaint.
What is the background to the dispute?
The Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) is a national pension scheme with some 400,000 members. There is an estimated £6.1 billion deficit between the value of the scheme’s assets, ie what is available in the pension pot, and its liabilities, ie what it will need to pay in pensions.
For our University alone, this would mean an extra £22 million each year in pension payments made by both the University and our staff. To put that into context, £22 million is more than the entire amount the University will generate this year for additional investment in our staff, our students, our research, and our teaching.
National representatives of both universities (UUK) and staff (UCU) have negotiated for many months, holding more than 30 meetings to agree a solution. In March, all pension scheme members will be consulted on a proposal to modify it to address the deficit and ensure it is stable, secure and continues to provide attractive benefits and affordability for scheme members and universities alike. We are encouraging our staff to respond fully to the consultation.
The proposal would continue the payments made by universities into the pension scheme at 18% of every staff member’s salary. All pension benefits saved up to April 2019 would be unaffected by the changes.
This is a national pension scheme, with a national deficit, and requires a national solution - which is why there will be a national consultation. No individual Vice-Chancellor will have influence over what is decided.
However, as this University’s Vice-Chancellor, I am committed to ensuring our staff have every opportunity to have their say in the consultation. This is because I believe it is important for all members to make their voices heard, but without adversely affecting the education of you, our students.
This is a subject that understandably arouses strong feelings. I have had discussions with your Student Union officers and with the University’s UCU representatives. It is essential that whatever our individual feelings about this debate, we continue to engage with each other, as we have so far, in a constructive and respectful way.
I appreciate that the forthcoming strikes may create some disruption, but I have every confidence that our University community will work hard to minimise the impact this may have on you.
Professor Shearer West
Posted on Wednesday 14th February 2018