St Andrews Students' Association
UCU Strikes, November 2023

UCU Strikes, November 2023

In October 2022, the University and College Union membership voted to take industrial action (which includes strike action) all across the United Kingdom. The resources on this webpage are intended to serve as a resource and source of information for students at the University of St Andrews who may have questions about industrial action.

In October 2022, the University and College Union membership voted to take industrial action (which includes strike action) all across the United Kingdom. The resources on this webpage are intended to serve as a resource and source of information for students at the University of St Andrews who may have questions about industrial action. 

Definitions and Acronyms

Picket line: a boundary created by striking workers outside their place of work, which they ask others not to cross. This is a physical display of their withdrawal of labour. Staff will join together, likely with placards/banners, chanting their grievances and demands in an effort to be heard.

Strike: a strike is a refusal to work by an organised body of workers, in order to force negotiations with management usually around working conditions or pay.

UCEA: the University and Colleges Employers Association represents 146 universities and colleges in the UK at collective negotiations. They set pay spines and increases for member institutions following negotiations. 

UCU: the University and College Union (UCU) is a national trade union, representing some academic, professional, and managerial staff (as well as some Postgraduate Teaching Assistants). There are branches throughout UK universities and colleges, including at St Andrews.

UUK: Universities UK is a collective of 140 universities across England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Members of UUK are vice-chancellors/principals of UK universities. Part of UUK’s work is policy and research around higher education and promoting universities at a governmental level.

Universities Scotland: is the collective of the 19 higher education institutions in Scotland. Like UUK, Universities Scotland works on policy and research about Scottish higher education, working for Principals/Directors of these member institutions.

What is happening?

The University and College Union (UCU) is a trade union that represents some academic, professional, and managerial staff (as well as some Postgraduate Teaching Assistants) at St Andrews and other Universities and Colleges across the UK. 

Through its democratic process, the UCU has outlined the following plan of action:

  • Action short of a strike commencing from 23 November
  • Full strike action on 24, 25, and 30 November

Further escalation is also being planned for Semester Two, if the UCU’s demands are not met by employers. Options like a Marking and Assessment Boycott may be considered.

Please note that actions are subject to change based on the results of negotiations between the Union and Employers. Legally, the UCU can continue to use the results of this strike ballot for six months, meaning until April 2023. 

What is the context?

In October 2022, the UCU asked its members if they were prepared to take strike action on two separate questions: (1) pay and working conditions; (2) pensions.  81.14% and 84.88% voted for strike action, in ballots for pay/working conditions, and for pension reductions/changes respectively. (See the UCU’s website and announcement for more information about these votes).

In summary, the UCU are fighting against:

  • Pay decreases – as real-term staff salaries have fallen significantly since 2009
  • Workload/working conditions – including working far beyond the 36.25 hours per week outlined in most staff contracts at St Andrews. According to UCU-run surveys, staff often work over 50 hours per week in order to support students and their research. Staff are not paid for hours worked over their contract, even if it is required.
  • Systematic inequality – pay gaps based on gender, ethnicity, and disability. (See EDI Reports at St Andrews for more details).
  • Pensions – the pension scheme that covers most staff (USS) has been cut by 35% for the average lecturer. (See here for more details). 

Please also see the UCU’s list of Frequently Asked Questions for more context about industrial action.

The university has put out guidance for staff members on this round of industrial action. 

Will there definitely be a strike?

For Semester One. the announced Strike Dates are:

  • Thursday 24 November
  • Friday 25 November
  • Wednesday 30 November

Unless Employers reach an agreement with the UCU, strike dates are unlikely to change.

It is unknown how many staff members will be taking strike action. Not all staff are members of the UCU. This means it is impossible to predict how many modules will be disrupted at St Andrews, as individual staff members are NOT required to provide advanced notice to the University before participating in industrial action. 

What does “Action Short of a Strike” mean?

“Action Short of a Strike” (or ASOS) will take place from Wednesday 23 November onward (indefinitely until otherwise updated by the UCU).

Action Short of a Strike involves working to contract (meaning staff will not work over the contracted hours they are paid for, usually 36.25 hours per week). It also includes actions like: not covering for absent colleagues; not participating in extra work (e.g. serving on a committee); or removing online learning materials related to lectures/classes that will be cancelled as a result of the strike.

(The UCU has prepared a series of Frequently Asked Questions regarding Action Short of a Strike).

What will a “Marking and Assessment Boycott” mean?

The UCU has the option to move forward with a Marking Strike starting in the New Year. A marking boycott has not yet been confirmed or called, but in the case that it were to occur: UCU members would refuse to mark assessments, thus slowing down normal progression and graduation timelines in order to trigger negotiations with management. (The UCU has prepared a Frequently Asked Questions Page about the Marking and Assessment Boycott).

Should I show up for my module on strike dates?

As it is impossible to say for certain whether or not any individual module will be running, students are advised to try to attend their scheduled module(s) on the day of strike action.

On your way to your module, you may come across a staff picket line. The picket line may ask you not to cross, but legally cannot prevent you from entering buildings. It is your choice whether or not to cross a picket line, but know that you cannot be academically penalised for doing so.

If you decide not to attend scheduled teaching, you will need to self-certify as normal.

What can/can’t students do?

We are aware that students are particularly invested in knowing how industrial action will affect their modules, particularly with regard to learning and teaching, assessment, and submission deadlines. While course/module-specific answers are not available, students should be aware of the following guidance.

Students CAN (or CAN EXPECT):

  • To be able to apply for or request an extension for coursework or assessments. This can be done by emailing your tutor or Module Coordinator as normal in the first instance, or your Director of Teaching or Head of School if they are unavailable. (Exact extension procedures will vary by School.)
  • The School to take into account how industrial action impacts you specifically: action may have greater impact on some students due to their personal circumstances.
  • To continue to have access to University buildings on day(s) of strike action or picketing. It is possible that you may encounter picket lines, who may ask you not to cross. It is your decision whether to cross a picket line; if you do choose to cross, you will not be penalised. If you decide not to attend scheduled teaching, you will need to self-certify as normal. 
  • To be able to Appeal results of assessment/examination if affected by industrial action. More information and support is available on the Students’ Association website. (You can also email [email protected]). 
  • The library and other self-guided learning facilities have also remained open in the past during industrial action. Please check the library webpage on the days of industrial action to find out which spaces are open.

Students CANNOT:

  • Ask staff members to reschedule lectures/tutorials/seminars cancelled as a result of industrial action. (If action is taken, participating staff members have chosen to withdraw their labour; rescheduling commitments would circumvent this withdrawal of labour. As such, teaching cannot be rescheduled).
  • Other non-striking staff members should not be expected to cover for absences. Individual staff may choose to do this but have no obligation to do so. 
  • Expect email or Teams communications from members who choose to take industrial action. If you see or receive an automatic reply, you can resend your inquiry to your Director of Teaching or Head of School.
  • Please refrain from asking individual staff if they are going to strike, or what their reasons for striking are. While some staff may be comfortable discussing this, others may not be. Refer to official statements and announcements from the St Andrews UCU branch. 

What are the Students’ Association doing about this?

On 15 November, 2022 the Student Representatives Council voted to voice support for the UCU’s industrial action. [See SRC Motion R-22-23 on Industrial Action].This means that officially, the Students’ Association stands behind staff members on this issue, and urge the University Senior Management to meaningfully negotiate and cooperate to meet the UCU’s demands.

In addition to supporting industrial action on the whole, the Students’ Association has pledged to:

  • Work with the St Andrews UCU branch to try and find solutions to issues specific to our University, especially those that affect our postgraduate students;
  • Disseminate information to students about industrial action, including an event with UCU and University spokespeople;
  • Allow striking staff members and student supporters to store strike materials and host meetings and “teach outs” in the Students Association free of charge;
  • Showcase testimonies about industrial action;
  • Allow officers and representatives to withhold participation in University committees, groups, and obligations on strike days (at the officer’s discretion; this will not affect Students’ Association-based activity);
  • Lobby the University to protect students who choose not to attend teaching components on strike days, even if those components go ahead;
  • Advocate that assessments take into consideration material which was missed due to strike action.

Can’t the UCU strike in a way that doesn’t affect students?

On a practical level, any staff withdrawal of labour affects students. Staff take actions daily to ensure that students have the best possible learning experience, in spite of managerial decisions which often directly disadvantage staff (including taking on unpaid work). Striking is a last resort to get senior managers to listen to staff concerns about unsustainable decisions around pay, pensions, and working conditions.

Staff members are keenly aware of the disruption students have had to their studies over the past few years and have no wish to further that disruption. However, short-term disruption through industrial action is necessary to achieve longer term improvements and will overall strengthen the student learning experience. 

How can students take action?

According to the St Andrews UCU Branch, students are encouraged to:

Contact Details

If you have questions for the St Andrews University and College Union (UCU) branch, please direct them to: [email protected]

For questions about the Students’ Association, our response to the strikes, or this webpage, please email us at: [email protected]

The outline for this page was made possible due to templates provided by UCU members at Queen Margaret University.