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UCU strike action 2020

As you may know, the University and College Union (UCU) has announced plans for a 14-day national strike over four weeks in February and March. Following a re-ballot, Birkbeck UCU will be participating.

We recognise the commitment and effort you put into your studies, and are working with staff and unions to ensure disruption is kept to a minimum. The College will try to offer access to all key facilities and services during this period, but if you experience disruption, we will do all we can to resolve these issues once the strike action is over.

Staff have been asked to provide students with as much notice as possible about any teaching that is affected by their participation in the strike. Where we have this information in advance, we will provide it via your online timetable and Moodle. You should also check your emails regularly. 

Birkbeck will seek to ensure that all students receive the necessary education and support to enable them to meet the learning outcomes of their programme of study. We will monitor the effect that any strike action has on your studies and will be in touch with you regularly about mitigating actions we will take. We will also be meeting regularly with Student Union representatives to discuss and update on the situation.

We will send you further information as it becomes available. If you have any further questions, please use our Ask system to raise them.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

The following frequently asked questions provide information and advice about the proposed strike action by UCU. 

WHEN WILL THE STRIKE ACTION TAKE PLACE?

  • The industrial action at Birkbeck is scheduled for the following dates:
    • Monday 24, Tuesday 25 and Wednesday 26 February
    • Monday 2, Tuesday 3, Wednesday 4 and Thursday 5 March
    • Monday 9, Tuesday 10, Wednesday 11, Thursday 12 and Friday 13 March
    • Thursday 19 and Friday 20 March.

WHAT IS THE STRIKE/DISPUTE ABOUT?

  • The proposed strike by the UCU will affect more than 60 universities around the country. It relates to national disputes about changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (a pension scheme for higher education institutions) and staff pay and conditions, which are negotiated at a national level.

WHAT IS BIRKBECK’S POSITION IN THE DISPUTE?

  • Birkbeck has been advocating further negotiation in the hope of resolving both these issues on a consensual basis and we will continue to do so, but these are national disputes and so, their resolution is largely outside the College’s control.
  • Birkbeck supported the establishment of a national independent panel of experts to look into and address concerns about the USS pension scheme.
  • Following pay negotiations at the national level, it awarded all of its staff a 1.8% pay increase in August 2019 and in addition, the majority of the College’s staff also received an annual pay increment of around 3%. UCU did not accept this salary increase and has asked for a larger increase linked to claims about working conditions.
  • The College is continuing to negotiate with its local UCU branch and is encouraging the organisations that represent it at the national level to reach a mutually acceptable solution on both pay and pensions issues.
  • Staff who voted in favour of strike action will not have made their decision lightly and will have been mindful of the potential impact on your studies and on colleagues who are not participating in industrial action. All Birkbeck staff are committed to the College’s students, who often make extraordinary sacrifices to study with us.
  • Please be assured the College will do all it can to minimise any disruption to your studies.

HOW WILL IT AFFECT ME?

  • We don’t yet know what impact the strike will have on each individual or module, as disruption will depend on which staff participate. The College has asked UCU members to give students as much notice as possible, if they plan to participate in the strike

WHAT WILL HAPPEN IF MY LECTURES ARE CANCELLED?

  • The College recognises the extraordinary sacrifices students make to study at Birkbeck. We have stressed, in our discussions with the local UCU branch, the importance of minimising disruption and asked staff to provide information about cancellations as early as possible. Material may be provided for cancelled classes or incorporated into other lectures or seminars.
  • Birkbeck will seek to ensure that all students receive the necessary education and support to enable them to meet the learning outcomes of their programme of study. Where possible, some lectures and learning opportunities may be rescheduled or delivered in alternative formats.

WILL I STILL GET SUPERVISION AND/OR WORK MARKED?

  • While there is no specific marking or supervision boycott, due to the number of strike days, there may be delays to marks being returned or supervisory meetings being scheduled. You are encouraged to contact your supervisors or lecturers to ask for clarification.

WHAT CAN I DO IF I FEEL MY WORK IS BEING DISRUPTED BY THE STRIKE?

  • Please contact your Personal Tutor or Module leader at the earliest opportunity about any impact that the disruption has on your studies. You can find the name of your Personal Tutor on your My Birkbeck portal.

WHAT STUDY SKILLS SUPPORT CAN I GET DURING THE INDUSTRIAL ACTION?

  • Writing feedback is available 24/7 via our Studiosity service. You can submit up to ten assessments a year to this service. It is available to all undergraduate and postgraduate taught students. The service is available on all strike days. Feedback is returned in under 24 hours and it is an excellent way of honing your submissions.
  • There is also a calendar of workshops on a variety of study skills. If demand for these outstrips the current capacity, the College will provide additional sessions.
  • You can also seek support from School-based learning support tutors and via the Library.
  • As the full effect of the strike becomes clear, we will be organising further events and support to mitigate its impact on studies and we will provide further details about these.

I THINK MY GRADES ARE GOING TO BE IMPACTED BY THE STRIKE. DO I NEED TO SUBMIT A ‘MITIGATING CIRCUMSTANCES’ REQUEST AS A RESULT OF THE INDUSTRIAL ACTION?

  • No, you do not need to submit ‘Mitigating Circumstances’ request as the examiners will take into account the impact of strike action on your studies, should the strike go ahead. Exam boards will receive information about the modules that have been disrupted by industrial action.
  • Our external examiners will also ensure that appropriate quality assurance and academic standards are maintained. We are confident that your University of London award will remain a prestigious and internationally respected qualification.
  • Exam boards will be made aware of any modules where teaching has been affected by strike action and are able to make discretionary adjustments where any negative impact is identified on module marks, as a result of strike action.

CAN I CROSS A PICKET LINE?

  • Picket lines can look intimidating. It is your choice whether or not you stop and talk to the people undertaking industrial action. You aren’t obliged to take a leaflet if offered one. Neither is anyone on a picket line allowed to prevent you from entering a Birkbeck building.
  • You may see people on the picket line that you recognise. If you do not wish to talk to them, you do not need to do so. There are many reasons why you may be going into a Birkbeck building - to visit the library, to access a computer or student support services, or to visit the Students’ Union. You do not have to explain why.
  • If you are unsure, you can read about what constitutes appropriate UCU picketing behaviour. Birkbeck UCU have been asked to be mindful of the distress and anxiety that picket lines can have on students.

SHOULD I CONTINUE TO ATTEND CLASSES ON STRIKE DAYS?

  • Yes, you should attend as normal, unless informed otherwise by your teaching team.
  • When attending a class, you should continue to record your attendance via the e-register system in your teaching room. If you arrive for class, your lecturer doesn’t turn up and you don’t have an e-register in your classroom, you should let us know about this via our Ask system, so that the College can record that you attended the class. You will need to identify the cancelled class and the room.
  • As staff have been asked to inform students in advance if they are going on strike, we hope there will be very few students who find that their class has been cancelled without notice.

I FEEL REALLY STRESSED BY ALL THIS TALK OF INDUSTRIAL ACTION. HOW CAN THE COLLEGE SUPPORT ME?

  • The College is committed to supporting all of its students to achieve their learning goals. It’s important for you to talk to your Personal Tutor and module teaching team about your concerns and how the strike action is impacting your study and wellbeing. They should be able to provide you with academic support and refer you to online and face-to-face student support services.
  • The College provides information, support and advice on a range of issues including disability support, counselling, mental health services and study skills support.

HOW CAN I COMPLAIN ABOUT THE DISRUPTION CAUSED BY THE INDUSTRIAL ACTION?

  • You should keep a record of exactly how the industrial action affected you. The College has to wait until the impact of the industrial action is fully known before it considers complaints at Stage 2, but you can ask your teaching team to consider mitigating the impact of the strike immediately by using Stage 1 (early resolution) of the College’s Complaints Policy and Procedure.

WILL BIRKBECK BE OFFERING REFUNDS FOR CANCELLED CLASSES?

  • The College is doing all that it can to mitigate the impact on your studies and experience of any classes that have been cancelled. Your tuition fees contribute towards your entire learning experience and are not directly linked to specific contact or teaching hours. Your tuition fees also cover infrastructure such as buildings, library and IT infrastructure.
  • We will continue to review the situation over the coming weeks. The Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA) has published some advice on this matter.

SHOULD I STOP PAYING MY TUITION FEES DURING THE INDUSTRIAL ACTION?

  • Your tuition fees are not directly linked to specific contact or teaching hours. Birkbeck will continue to offer you learning opportunities during the 14 days of the industrial action and to the completion of your studies.
  • Where you have missed a learning opportunity this term, the College will endeavour to make this up at a later date. It would therefore be premature to stop paying your fees at this time.
  • If you have a question regarding your fee payment schedule, you should seek advice from the Income Office in the Student Advice Centre. Please be mindful that some payment methods, such as direct debits, come with legal obligations that are externally regulated.

I AM AN INTERNATIONAL STUDENT. WILL MY TIER 4 STATUS BE COMPROMISED IF I MISS A LECTURE DUE TO A STRIKE?

  • Tier 4 students should continue to attend their classes as normal, unless they receive confirmation from their tutor or school administrative team that a particular session is not going ahead.
  • Home Office guidance issued in 2019 confirms that if an 'expected contact' such as a lecture, seminar or individual supervisory discussion can’t go ahead because of industrial action, this will not be recorded as an unauthorised absence. You can find out more on the UKCISA website
  • Schools will continue to liaise with and support Tier 4 students, should there be any concerns about attendance. Students will not be recorded as absent from classes that are cancelled.
  • If you are concerned about your attendance, please email  or the Student Advice Service. Where the College believes your attendance requirement is being impacted by the industrial action, it will write to you to offer advice.
  • The College will maintain contact with United Kingdom Visas and Immigration to advocate for international students.

WILL EXAMS CONTAIN QUESTIONS ON THE AREAS THAT SHOULD HAVE BEEN COVERED DURING THE STRIKE ACTION?

  • If material relevant to the assessment has not been delivered as a consequence of the industrial action, departments may make adjustments to factor out the requirement for students to demonstrate learning relevant to that material. This may include amending assessment questions as appropriate.

WHAT WILL THE COLLEGE BE DOING WITH THE STRIKE DEDUCTIONS?

  • The strike deductions, once collected, will be reinvested in support services for students. When a member of staff withdraws their labour in a strike or industrial dispute, they are required by law to declare they have been on strike. The College will deduct the appropriate sum from their salary.

CAN I WORK UNSUPERVISED IN A LABORATORY SETTING DURING A STRIKE?

  • If a laboratory class is cancelled, you may not use the laboratory in the absence of supervising staff.
  • Project and PhD students should only work, in the absence of the normal oversight, where they have been given the permission of their supervisor to carry out experiments without direct supervision, and a COSHH/risk assessment has been completed for the tasks undertaken. If the work is assessed as unsuitable for lone working and there is no one else present, the work should not continue.
  • There are some situations when lone working must never take place, for example, where there is a risk of sudden serious injury, ill health or death should a procedure go accidentally wrong or if safety procedures are not followed. 

WILL TRAINING AND PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT EVENTS FOR PHD STUDENTS BE AFFECTED BY THE STRIKE?

  • If a training session is cancelled, you will be contacted in advance to inform you of this. You should check your emails for updates about training events on strike days in case they are cancelled or postponed.

WHERE WILL I FIND THE LATEST INFORMATION ON WHETHER MY CLASS IS CANCELLED?

  • Teaching staff have been asked to let you know in advance if they will be on strike. Please check your emails, My Birkbeck timetable and Moodle for the latest information.
  • Changes to your timetable can also be identified via the timetable kiosks in the Malet Street reception area.

IF MY CLASS IS CANCELLED, IS THERE SOMEWHERE I CAN MEET ON CAMPUS WITH MY FELLOW STUDENTS FOR A STUDY GROUP?

  • Yes. At the Malet Street reception on strike days you will find a list of teaching and computer rooms (not laboratories) available for study within the normal teaching times. You can also book meeting and study rooms in the Library.

HOW CAN I CONTINUE MY STUDIES DURING THE STRIKE?

  • We believe many classes will continue as usual and we are doing all we can to mitigate the impact of those that are cancelled.
  • Study resources and reading lists remain available on Moodle and the library continues to be open throughout the strike action so you can continue to conduct individual and group learning, and study skills support. 

WILL MY COURSEWORK OR ASSESSMENT SUBMISSION DEADLINES BE ALTERED BY THE STRIKE?

  • Please continue to submit your coursework and assessments by the published deadline, unless told otherwise by your lecturers. Please talk to your department if you are concerned that assessment and/or feedback is not being delivered within four weeks of submission.