Coronavirus information and guidance

Strike action information for students

"You may be aware that a series of national strike days in Higher Education is scheduled to take place in February and March accompanied by action short of a strike. The action has been called by the University and College Union (UCU), a trade union which represents academic, professional and managerial staff at St Andrews and at other universities across the UK. Not all academics and managers are UCU members.

This action has arisen over changes to the national pension scheme (Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS)) and is also in response to national pay-related issues and working conditions. Over 70 universities across the UK are affected by this action.

In St Andrews, we hope that our colleagues who decide to take part in this national action will exercise their right to strike in ways that avoid or minimise any disruption to you, our students.

The briefing below provides a background to the dispute, updates on the teaching and assessment which may be affected, and the steps we will take to minimise the impact on you and your education.

We will keep you informed via this web page and also by email, should there be any changes to our plans, or our advice to you."

Professor Clare Peddie
Vice-Principal Education (Proctor)
University of St Andrews


What is the dispute about?

At St Andrews, in line with our rigorous approach to research and education, we will always encourage everyone to understand the facts of a debate and make a balanced, informed analysis of them, rather than jumping to support one side or the other.

You are entitled to understand fully the different perspectives that form the current debate around pay, work and pensions of university staff, and we expect you will want to investigate the facts independently to arrive at your own views. To that end, we have provided links to different perspectives in these FAQs.

The UCU has called the industrial action in protest about the 2019 national pay settlement for university staff, a recent increase in the contribution employees make towards their pensions, and concern about working arrangements such as casual contracts.

Read more about the UCU’s reasons for calling a strike. If your lecturer, tutor or professor is taking action, they will normally be very pleased to explain to you their reasons for doing so.

The 2019 national pay settlement meant university staff across the UK received an increase of 1.8%, while the UCU had called for an increase of at least 6%.

On pensions, the Universities Superannuation Scheme board (which looks after pensions for academic staff across more than 60 institutions) increased employer contributions by 1.6% and employee contributions by 0.8%; the UCU argued that staff should not have to pay the 0.8% increase.

You can read more about the employers’ reasons for refusing the demands of UCU at the USS Employers website and the UCEA website


What is St Andrews’ position on the dispute?

This is primarily a national dispute which can only be resolved by negotiation at a national level.

The University is bound by the terms of the national pay negotiation framework and cannot resolve this dispute locally. We are concerned about the impact of a strike on our students, all of our staff, and this community.

We understand the frustration of colleagues who have suffered a real-terms decline in the value of their nationally determined remuneration, and who are also concerned about changes to the national Universities Superannuation Scheme.

We share their concerns about the governance of the USS pension scheme, and we have repeatedly called for its reform.

We are committed to ensuring fair working conditions for all.

We will continue to call for differences to be resolved by meaningful national negotiation, and to reach a settlement that is fair to staff and sustainable for their institutions.

We stand ready and are committed to implement any nationally agreed settlement.

Full details of the actions St Andrews has taken and is taking to address the concerns of our staff on pay, pensions and working arrangements can be found on the industrial action web page.


Can St Andrews resolve the pay dispute by giving staff more money?

No. Trades unions, including UCU, and the organisations which represent university employers, insist on national collective bargaining to agree pay settlements.

We hope there can be meaningful talks between the union and employers’ organisations to resolve the dispute, but we cannot increase staff salaries without national agreement.


When will the strikes take place?

UCU has asked its members in St Andrews to take the following action.

To strike on:

  • Thursday 20 & Friday 21 February
  • Monday 24, Tuesday 25 & Wednesday 26 February
  • Monday 2, Tuesday 3, Wednesday 4 & Thursday 5 March
  • Monday 9, Tuesday 10, Wednesday 11, Thursday 12 & Friday 13 March

To take action short of a strike continuously until no later than 29 April 2020.

It is possible that classes or revision sessions taught by UCU members will not be delivered between Thursday 20 February and Friday 13 March, if those colleagues elect to take strike action on those days. The revision period and examination diet are planned to proceed as normal.


What is action short of a strike?

Action short of a strike is taking effect until the end of April. UCU have said that this action may involve UCU members taking action in one or all of four different ways such as:

  • working to contract
  • not covering for absent colleagues
  • not rescheduling lectures or classes cancelled due to strike action
  • not undertaking voluntary activities

We do not envisage that this action short of a strike will normally affect the teaching or assessment of students.


What is a strike?

UCU members taking strike action will not work on the strike days. As is normal practice in these circumstances, the University will withhold pay from UCU members for each day that they take strike action. All such monies will be accounted for separately, and we will consult our students via the Students’ Association about how these monies should be spent in support of the student experience.


How will I know if my classes are to be cancelled?

Legally, UCU members do not have to tell the University in advance if they are taking strike action, therefore we may not know which UCU members will exercise their right to strike on the days noted above.

We hope that your lecturers and tutors will let you know in advance when classes may be withdrawn or rescheduled, and you are entitled to ask them about this although they are not obliged to answer. We have asked all colleagues to do their best to ensure students are kept informed and to do everything possible to minimise the impact on you.

In St Andrews, we know that UCU members, as do all staff, genuinely care about the academic welfare of students, and some may already have told you about their plans. In all cases, students can expect to be able to attend classes without fear of intimidation from pickets.


How widespread is the UCU action likely to be in St Andrews?

Only UCU members can take part in this action, and they are not obliged to state in advance if they are taking action. Not all academic, professional and managerial staff at St Andrews are members of UCU and not all members will take part.

UCU has informed us that 265 of 559 St Andrews staff who are members of the local branch of UCU voted in favour of taking industrial action. All UCU members are entitled to take strike action, however, even if they voted against doing so.


Can I join the strike?

The action is for UCU members only and is not a legitimate reason to miss classes or assessments. You should attend all classes as usual as far as you possibly can.


Can I cross a picket line?

There may be picket lines outside some of the University buildings where you are taking classes or studying, but these apply to members of staff, not to students. You should not have any reason to be deterred from going about your usual business. From our previous experience, picket lines in St Andrews are good-humoured and well run.


What about submission of continuous assessment during the strike dates?

Unless you are contacted by your School to inform you otherwise, all submission deadlines for items of continuous assessment will still apply.

If, for any reason, you wish to request an extension and the normal member of staff is not available due to strike action, please contact your Director of Teaching or Head of School.


Will I receive my module grades by the reporting deadline?

Marks for continuous assessment submitted towards the end of semester may be delayed by the strike action. However, we currently do not expect any delay to the final reporting of your module grades.


Will exams be affected by the strike action?

All that can be done will be done to minimise the effects of the strike action on examinations and marking.

We will ensure that all examination assessment is fair. If the action is likely to have significant effects on your exams, we will ensure you are kept informed and will update our advice to you.


What about the examination of material I have missed?

We will ensure that the examinations process takes account of any disruption to your studies. Further information about any examinations affected by content that may not have been delivered will be released before the end of semester.


Will the library and other facilities remain open during the strike?

Yes, the University libraries and all learning, social and sports facilities will remain open throughout the strike. You may encounter a picket line at the entrances to some buildings, but students and staff will not be prevented from entering buildings.


What is being done to support students, and where can I go for help?

We will ask all Heads of Schools and units to take reasonable steps to minimise the impact of the action on students. We have reminded all colleagues that all assessment, both of examinations and continuous assessment, must be fair and flexible. We will work with the Students’ Association representatives and our School Presidents in order that they too can address or forward any concerns or questions students may have about the action.

If you are concerned, however, and feel you need additional assistance or advice, please contact our Student Services team in person at the Advice and Support Centre in North Street, where we are setting up a dedicated Strike Helpdesk, or by email to theasc@st-andrews.ac.uk


Will graduation be affected by this action?

If you are graduating, we hope your experience will not be affected by the industrial action.


Will I be entitled to compensation if I miss classes or coursework?

Fees contribute to very much more than direct contact hours: facilities such as the library, IT support, student services, heating and lighting all have to come from the University’s varied revenues. As such, we cannot disentangle fees from the overall financial expenditure and commitments across the University and, as our terms and conditions make clear, we are not in a position to make refunds. 

We will do everything we can to avoid disruption to your classes and coursework, to reschedule missed learning opportunities or provide these by alternative means and to ensure that exams and assessments are fair. In the event that you are not satisfied with the actions we take to ameliorate the effects of the industrial action, you may be entitled to make a complaint through the University’s complaints handling procedure.