Here’s how the university strikes will impact you as London students

All your strike-related questions answered

On November 24, 25 and 30, staff who are UCU members at universities across the UK, including more than 30 in London, will be striking over disputes regarding pay and pensions.

Starting today, these staff will also be participating in action short of strikes (ASOS), which would see them working only to their contracted responsibilities and not taking on anything voluntary like covering for absent colleagues and answering your emails sent outside working hours.

The London Tab have put together this guide explaining everything you need to know about how the strikes could affect you.

Staff on strike in December 2021

What happens during a strike?

UCU members that are striking will not be working, so teaching will be affected if lecturers and tutors are union members. Some other services, such as those provided in libraries, could also be affected if the staff operating them participate in the strikes.

Staff walking out and those who support them will be standing outside universities in a picket line to demonstrate why they are going on strike. This is legal, but these staff cannot prevent you from entering the campus (even though crossing the picket line is often seen as disagreeing with the union’s goals.) Picket lines are generally pleasant and welcoming, and many unions have organised events such as teach-outs or poetry reading to be held.

On November 30 at 1 pm, UCU will also hold “the biggest national demonstration in UCU history” at Kings Cross.

Will my classes be cancelled?

If your tutor or lecturers are participating in this round of strikes, any scheduled classes on November 24, 25, and 30 will be cancelled. They don’t have to tell you if they are going on strike in advance, but most will notify students beforehand.

You should not be penalised for missing class during the strikes if you don’t want to cross the picket lines, and these absences do not count for Tier 4 visa holders.

Any cancelled classes are not required to be made up or for, nor will missed content be covered, but individual lecturers can hold make-up sessions at their own discretion.

Check your emails and keep an eye on your university’s online platforms for updates. But it’s best to ask any questions in advance since participating staff won’t reply to emails or hold office hours during a strike.

What happens to my coursework?

There will be no changes to coursework deadlines due to the strike, so write your essays as normal. Make sure to also make the most of support hours when available, as they will not be held during the strikes if the staff is involved.

If you’re waiting for assignment feedback, there may be slight delays. But staff usually hope to get it back as soon as possible.

Will libraries be open?

Some professional service staff can be UCU members, libraries, support services, and offices may be closed, have different operating hours, or be short-staffed. If in doubt, it’s better to check in advance – just email and ask.

On the other hand, student wellbeing services and students’ unions’ services and spaces are unlikely to be affected.

Why does the strike have to affect me?

The strike is not directed at you, and both the universities and participating staff are doing their best to minimise any impact. However, there is no way for academic staff to exert pressure on universities without students being affected. While it varies at individual student unions, the strikes are backed by the National Union of Students (NUS).

What are my rights?

You have certain rights outlined by the Office of Students and protected by consumer protection law, but how these look in reality depends on your university and department’s regulations and approaches.

Generally, universities are expected during industrial actions to maintain teaching quality, actively try to resolve issues with missed teaching, make sure you’re not disadvantaged academically, communicate the situation and changes to you clearly, and consider your needs in their efforts to stop or prevent a strike.

You can read more about your rights here.

Will there be more strikes and other industrial action?

Recent nationwide ballots by UCU gave them a mandate for industrial action for six months, allowing action to continue until April 2023. The three days at the end of this month are the only strikes confirmed so far, but ASOS will continue even after these have ended.

UCU has also said if no agreement is reached with employers, there will be escalating strike action in the new year, along with a marking and assessment boycott.

How can I support the strikes?

UCU members are striking to protest against inadequate and unequal pay and cuts to pensions, and staff will also be forfeiting their salaries during the strike period. Many students may want to support them in gaining improved working conditions, which some draw parallel to students’ learning conditions.

If you want to support the strikes, there are many ways to do so. These include trying not to cross the picket lines, attending events held as part of the strikes like teach-outs, signing petitions or writing letters of support, and possibly joining the picket lines.

But remember, this action has been called by academic staff and is led by them, so if you do support, make sure to be respectful and take action in a way they’d want. If there’s any doubt, look at your local UCU branch website for advice or email them.

Related stories recommended by this writer:

Staff at more than 30 London unis to strike for three days at the end of November

• Two-thirds of UCL security staff to strike over pay and union rights in two weeks

• Up to 140 Birkbeck staff threatened by ‘knee-jerk job cuts’ following student number drop