Industrial action 2018

Article

The main union for academic staff, Goldsmiths University and College Union (UCU), took part in industrial action as part of a nationwide dispute over pensions during the spring of 2018.

Goldsmiths was one of 61 institutions across the country where strikes took place on the following dates:

  • Thu 22, Fri 23 February
  • Mon 26, Tue 27, Wed 28 February
  • Mon 5, Tue 6, Wed 7, Thu 8 March
  • Mon 12, Tue 13, Wed 14, Thu 15, Fri 16 March

Why was my lecturer striking?

The strike was called in protest at the outcome of national pensions negotiations which followed a major revaluation of the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) pension last year.

The revaluation suggested there was a £7.5 billion funding gap between the scheme’s liabilities (i.e. the amounts it needs to pay retired staff) and its assets. Discussions between the UCU and Universities UK (UUK), which represents many of the 350 institutions whose staff belong to the USS scheme, on how to address this gap had been ongoing for well over a year.

UCU was unhappy with the proposal eventually agreed by the Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC) on 23 January 2018, which would have seen future service accruing pension benefits on a defined contribution basis rather than a defined benefit basis. The UCU calculated that this change would result in a significant difference in the average pension of a retired member of staff, though the precise figures are disputed by UUK. In March, the UCU further rejected a revised proposal, which retained an element of defined benefit. However, following intensive discussions, on 23 March, UUK proposed the establishment of a Joint Expert Panel to look again at the pension scheme valuation and make further recommendations for an agreed way forward.

Following a national ballot of members, on 13 April, UCU announced that 64% of those voting supported the proposal and that they would therefore suspend the industrial action and proceed to discuss with UUK the establishment of the Panel. In the meantime, pension contributions and benefits will remain the same until at least April 2019.

How many Goldsmiths staff took part?

UCU has over 500 members at Goldsmiths, around one third of our total workforce.

As at 23 May, 409 UCU members had completed and returned a ‘self-declaration’ form confirming that they are participating in the official industrial action. While we know this does not yet reflect the full extent of participation in the action, at present the figure represents 74% of the recorded UCU membership and 38% of Goldsmiths staff who are members of the USS (UCU has members in both academic and non-academic roles).

Why couldn’t Goldsmiths avoid this?

Goldsmiths has not been in a position to resolve this dispute locally. Negotiations over pensions are conducted through a national group called the Joint Negotiating Committee, which includes representatives of the UCU and Universities UK. Unions and employers are committed to this national-level process (“collective bargaining”) as it helps ensure fairness and parity for employees across the country. All we can do is encourage those negotiating to continue dialogue with commitment to resolution on both sides, as repeatedly called for by the Warden. We hope that the Joint Expert Panel will be a step towards this.

What is Goldsmiths doing to minimise disruption for students?

Departments have worked hard to mitigate the impact of the strikes, particularly in relation to assessments. Departments took different approaches, depending on the amount and type of teaching which was missed, and its impact on assessment. Information was published on learn.gold.ac.uk, typically at programme-level, and you should contact your department for more details if necessary.

The College’s Strike Mitigation Working Group met throughout the spring and summer terms to support departments in addressing the impact the strike has had on academic activity, encourage a consistency of approach across the College and ensure that academic standards were maintained. The Students’ Union was represented on this group, which also had senior level Departmental representation.

All pay deducted for strike action is being transferred to the Student Support Fund.

What about College activities that were cancelled?

Departments have worked hard to mitigate the impact of the strikes, particularly in relation to assessments. Departments took different approaches, depending on the amount and type of teaching which was missed, and its impact on assessment. Information was being published on learn.gold.ac.uk, typically at programme-level, and you should contact your department for more details if necessary. We continue to monitor how this activity is taking place across the College, and we are supporting Departments as necessary.

We will work to ensure that students suffer no detriment in their studies, or assessment outcomes. Any student who felt that this has not been achieved was encouraged to submit a formal complaint through our usual processes. Reflecting our standard rules, complaints had to be made within three months of the relevant incident – in this case, Friday 22 June 2018 (just over three months after the final strike day).

What is the College doing to make up for the disruption?

Departments applied various forms of mitigation, such as reproviding teaching in different forms and reviewing assessments to ensure that the industrial action did not disadvantage students’ outcomes.

However, we appreciate that some students may believe we did not do enough and therefore chose to raise formal complaints about how the industrial action has affected their experience at Goldsmiths, to highlight any direct or indirect detriment they feel they have suffered. Reflecting our usual rules, such complaints had to be made within three months of the relevant incident – though as the final strike day was 16 March, we extended the deadline by a few days to Friday 22 June 2018 to avoid confusion about weekend deadlines.

We are working through these complaints and keeping students up-to-date on likely timescales for receiving a response.

Throughout the last term, students who raised concerns that the recent industrial action was likely to affect their performance in assessments were directed towards the Extenuating Circumstances procedure. In line with our usual procedures, departments then took decisions on the basis of the evidence provided.

If you have already made a submission through the Extenuating Circumstances procedure then you are not able to make an appeal on the same grounds once you have received your results, because a decision has already been taken and any mitigation considered appropriate as a result has already been put in place.

Details on the process for submitting academic appeals after assessment can be found here.

Is Goldsmiths responding in line with other institutions and national guidance? 

Yes. Goldsmiths’ approach to strike mitigation and handling student complaints reflects good practice recommended by the Office for Students and the Office of the Independent Adjudicator, which are the regulatory bodies overseeing university provision in England. Information offered to students in affected institutions by Universities UK also confirms our approach is fully in line with other universities impacted by the strikes.

What if I missed activity because I chose not to cross a picket line?

Goldsmiths is committed to maintaining an environment where you feel able to make an informed choice about the extent to which you support a cause, in this case the industrial action. We worked hard to ensure that you remained able to access the academic activity and other services which we continued to provide throughout the period of industrial action.

It is our assumption that where lectures, seminars, workshops, tutorials and other forms of teaching were delivered, students should – as would ordinarily be the case – have attended.

While we appreciate some students chose not to cross picket lines, if you opted out of attending academic activity that was provided during strike days then you will be understood to have made a choice which has implications for your studies. For instance, lectures that ran as normal during the strikes may not be offered again by departments, and assessments are unlikely to be amended if content has been delivered. No mitigation is likely to be considered for those who have voluntarily missed activity which has taken place.

Students with concerns about how any absence during strike days might impact their academic progression or immigration status are encouraged to contact their department or our Immigration Advisory Service respectively.

What student wellbeing support is the university providing?

We are acutely aware of the concerns some students have about the possible impact of the recent strikes. In addition to the support offered by your department, we will continue to work flexibly to ensure our student wellbeing team is able to meet student demand. Find out about our full range of wellbeing services.

Will the strike affect my visa?

If you have any concerns about this you can contact the Immigration Advisory Service for assurance at any time.

Did the Warden take a public stand in support of the strikers’ concerns?

Yes. The Warden issued an open letter to the Goldsmiths community which was also sent to UUK and UCU. Through his letter, at an early stage in the action, the Warden joined a small but growing number of university leaders to call for a return to negotiations between national employer and employee representatives. UCU’s General Secretary commended this step.

The Warden also engaged in open correspondence with Goldsmiths UCU in which he confirmed that Goldsmiths would honour any national agreement, including one with some element of an affordable defined benefit, if such a scheme and associated valuation assumptions could be mutually agreed.

At various stages in the dispute, the Warden repeated this call for further discussions. The announcement of a Joint Expert Panel to seek to review the pension scheme valuation is clearly a step towards a mutually acceptable position and he has welcomed the result of the UCU national ballot which will lead to its establishment.


Information last updated: 2 July 2018