Answers to some of the most frequently asked questions are below.
If you have a question not answered here, please submit your question through the Ask a Question link.
Why is industrial action taking place?
As part of a national dispute over pensions and pay, UCU has called for its members to take strike action at universities throughout the UK. A detailed explanation of the issues can be found at our industrial action webpage.
We cannot resolve this dispute locally as changes to pay and pensions are negotiated at a national level. We can only seek to mitigate any impact on students, which is our primary focus.
Why can't the University stop industrial action taking place?
These are national disputes and our agency as one employer in a national disagreement is limited.
As a member of Universities UK (UUK) and University and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA), we are bound by sector-wide decisions on pay and pensions. We cannot resolve these disputes locally; all negotiations take place between representatives of UUK, UCEA and UCU.
When will industrial action be taking place?
Strike action took place on 1-3 December 2021 (inclusive) and ten days of further strike action are planned for the following dates:
Action Short of Strike (ASOS) will start on 1 December 2021 and may continue until no later than 3 May 2022. UCU have informed us that ASOS will "consist of our members only working their contracted hours and duties and not volunteering to do more, not rescheduling classes and lectures cancelled due to strike action, not covering for absent colleagues, removing uploaded materials related to, and/or not sharing materials related to, lectures or classes that will be or have been cancelled as a result of strike action".
Our key objective is, as far as possible, to ensure our students are able to achieve their learning outcomes and maintain their access to learning.
What is 'action short of a strike'?
Action short of a strike covers a longer period than strike action, which is usually planned on set days. It most commonly takes the form of a refusal to perform full duties.
UCU have informed us that ASOS will "consist of our members only working their contracted hours and duties and not volunteering to do more, not rescheduling classes and lectures cancelled due to strike action, not covering for absent colleagues, removing uploaded materials related to, and/or not sharing materials related to, lectures or classes that will be or have been cancelled as a result of strike action".
Will my classes be cancelled?
Many academic staff are not members of UCU, and those who are may not strike on all ten days. Many classes will proceed as usual.
Staff are not obligated to inform the University in advance of taking strike action, so it is not possible to know in advance which classes will be affected. Some staff will alert students of their intentions. Unless you hear from your teachers, we ask that you act on the assumption that classes will be held as scheduled and that assignments may be submitted as usual, on each day of the strike.
When will I find out if my lectures are affected?
Staff intending to strike may choose to inform their students of their intentions. However, they may not inform the University in advance. All students should act on the assumption that classes will be held as scheduled until notified, and that assignments may be submitted as usual, on each day of the strike.
Will my lecturers mark my work/assessments?
When the strike period is over, staff are being asked to prioritise teaching, learning and assessment activities. Although staff may be taking part in action short of a strike (ASOS), a marking boycott is not currently an active form of ASOS, and therefore all work should be marked.
What is the University doing to reduce the disruption to students?
Your education is our highest priority. As indicated in the mitigations policy published last November, we seek to ensure that you have access to learning opportunities and are able to fulfil the learning outcomes of your programme.
Following strike action staff will be expected to mitigate the effects of cancelled classes. This activity should take priority over all others. While we respect the right of staff to strike, we expect that all materials relevant to cancelled classes will be posted no later than Monday 7 March. However, some staff may choose to take ASOS by removing, or not posting, materials related to classes cancelled as a result of strike action.
Will any disruption be considered when it comes to assessments and examinations?
No student will be disadvantaged in assessments and examinations as a consequence of industrial action. All evaluations will be fair, consistent and transparent. Students will not be tested by examination on material affected by the strike.
Detailed policies concerning examinations, assessments other than examinations, and group mitigations, can be viewed online.
Will I be able to graduate?
Students graduate or progress by demonstrating through assessment that they have completed an approved programme of study. When it approves a programme, the University determines what a student must achieve overall to complete the programme: these are called the 'programme learning outcomes'. Achieving these does not require every detail of every module to be completed.
Where can I get wellbeing support during industrial action?
Support is available to students who may be affected by the strike through the Student Support Office within their Colleges. Contact details for the Student Support Offices can be found here: Student Support & Wellbeing - Durham University.
Additionally, the services offered by the Counselling & Mental Health Service and Disability Support will be unaffected by the strike and will remain available to students, see here: Counselling & Mental Health Service - Durham University and https://www.dur.ac.uk/disability.support/.
Where can I get academic support during industrial action?
If you have any specific questions or concerns, then speak to your academic department in the first instance.
I'm an international student. Will the strike action affect my visa?
No. Your academic department will continue to monitor your attendance as normal. If any classes or contact points are missed because of the strike it is recorded as authorised absence.
Will I receive a refund for days affected by the strike?
Tuition fees contribute to a whole university experience and are not directly linked to specific contact or teaching hours.
At this point in time, we do not know the precise impact of industrial action on individual students, but Durham is committed to providing students with an educational experience that is accessible, inclusive, and of high quality regardless of how it is delivered.
Mitigating the impact of industrial action on students is our highest institutional priority and our staff will be asked to temporarily set aside other activities to support this goal.
What if I have further questions about, or am not happy with the education I am receiving?
If you have any specific questions or concerns about your modules or programmes, then speak to your academic department in the first instance.
If you are not happy with your programme, you may be able to transfer to another programme in Durham or elsewhere, or to withdraw from the University (with any appropriate exit qualification, depending on the number of credits you have already gained). Further information is available online, via our Terms & Conditions webpages. Information on tuition fee costs in light of withdrawal (e.g., what you would pay depending on when you withdrew) is available from our Policy on Student Debt.
The University also operates a complaints process for students, in accordance with the requirements of the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education.
Who do I contact if I would like to make a formal complaint and how will my complaint be dealt with?
The University operates a formal complaints process for students, in accordance with the requirements of the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education. The first step of the process is to discuss any concerns you have with your academic department.
How is the university addressing issues raised in the Four Fights dispute and progressing the work outlined within the Joint Statement on Casualisation?
We have a good working relationship with our recognised trade unions, including UCU, and by working in partnership, we have made some positive change over the last two years in the areas of pay, workload, employment and equality, summarised here.
We are certainly not complacent and know there is more to be done in these areas with time. We’re thankful for the support DUSU and our recognised trade unions give us, and we’d welcome continuation of our partnership working in these areas.
More detailed information on our progress can be found on our pay and wider benefits pages.
Can the University use its influence within Universities UK and the Universities and Colleges Employer Association to re-enter meaningful discussions with UCU nationally regarding the USS pension scheme?
On the USS dispute, we welcomed the decision by UCU to submit alternative proposals. Both UEC and the Chair and Finance Committee of Council considered the UCU proposals carefully. Time was of the essence in avoiding a worse outcome. We reluctantly concluded the UCU proposals were unworkable. This is explained in full at www.durham.ac.uk/industrial-action.
We do share some common ground with UCU in that we believe that, as a matter of urgency, there is a need to accelerate discussions with stakeholders on reform of the USS scheme. We are committed to working with other universities to urge UUK to consider a more flexible long-term option for staff pensions and we are happy to share more as we try to take this forward.
We have a concern over the fact that current member contributions are already leading to a high opt-out rate and resulting in inter-generational unfairness. We have raised this and other issues with UUK in the past where they affect our staff, and please be assured we will continue to do so.
Will the university remove the pay deduction in relation to staff not uploading lesson materials for teaching that happened during the strike period?
One particular form of ASOS that UCU has chosen to deploy for the first time during this period of industrial action is to “remove uploaded materials related to, and/or not to share materials related to, lectures or classes that will be or have been cancelled as a result of strike action”. This directly affects ability of students to learn materials taught on their course. We have a duty to both our students, and to our regulatory bodies, to mitigate this risk. More details can be found within our position statement.
Where postgraduate students are working as Graduate Teaching Assistants, are they afforded the same employment rights and conditions as other teaching staff?
As a result of the review into casual working arrangements, led by the Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Provost and completed working in partnership with UCU, the University’s usual position is now to offer an employment contract, with university terms and conditions. You can read more on our casualisation page.