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 26 April, around 400 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, and colleagues are not obliged to inform their management of their participation in industrial action until after the event, at present the figure represents 73% 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 are working hard to mitigate the impact of the strikes, particularly looking ahead to assessments later this term. Departments are taking different approaches, depending on the amount and type of teaching which was missed, and its impact on assessment. Information is being 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 is supporting departments in addressing the impact the strike has had on academic activity, encouraging a consistency of approach across the College and ensuring that academic standards are maintained. The Students’ Union is represented on this group, which also has 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 are working hard to mitigate the impact of the strikes, particularly looking ahead to assessments later this term. Departments are taking different approaches, depending on the amount and type of teaching which was missed, and its impact on assessment. Information is being published on learn.gold.ac.uk, typically at programme-level, and you should contact your department for more details if necessary. We are monitoring how this activity is taking place across the College, and supporting Departments as necessary.
We will work to ensure that students suffer no detriment in their studies, or assessment outcomes. If any individual student feels that this has not been achieved, We will deal with formal complaints through our usual processes.
What is the College doing to make up for the disruption?
Departments are working on various forms of mitigation, such as reproviding teaching in different forms and reviewing assessments to ensure that the industrial action does not disadvantage students’ outcomes.
However, we appreciate that some students may believe we have not done enough and therefore choose to raise formal complaints about how the industrial action has affected their experience at Goldsmiths. We will deal with formal complaints through our usual processes, the first stage of which is raising the matter with your department.
Once you have had a discussion with your department, and if you are still not satisfied, the second stage is to formally refer your complaint to the College centrally. To assist with this, and because every programme offers a different mix of academic activity, we have created a student complaint form. Please use this form if you are complaining about your experiences linked directly to the industrial action. This form is designed to help you in making a focused submission that addresses:
- What academic activity you missed involuntarily;
- What you are asking the College to do about it.
As you will expect, complaints will be reviewed against information we hold about what academic activity did take place during the recent strike days, and we will liaise with departments over their ongoing mitigation plans to make an assessment of your detriment due to the strikes. You will be in a better position to take a view on the questions in the form once your department has had a reasonable period to reschedule missed teaching and provide other mitigation activity.
Please remember, when formulating any complaint, that all universities offer far more than just ‘contact time’ with academic staff. The vast majority of Goldsmiths’ services – from the Library, to IT support and equipment loan, to our student welfare provision – remained available during the recent strikes.
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: 15 May 2018