Strike action FAQs

Image shows OU Students Association logo on a light blue background Image shows OU Students Association logo on a light blue background

Update – 20 February 

UCU have made the decision to pause their strike action for two weeks, starting Monday 20th February. This is due to ‘significant progress’ being made on the issues during the last week, following negotiations facilitated by ACAS, and a desire to pursue a resolution in a constructive environment. UCU have stated that action after these two weeks is still planned to go ahead, and a re-ballot to continue action will still be held. Read further information from UCU

Read more about the progress made in a joint statement by UCU, other unions and the universities representative body UUK. 

What are the UCU strikes?  

The University and College Union (UCU) members working in UK universities have backed strike action in relation to two issues, one regarding pensions, and the second regarding pay and working conditions. The UCU nationally successfully met the 50% threshold undertake strike action and action short of a strike (ASOS).   

Who are the people that are striking?

Members of UCU are typically academics and postgraduate teaching students, although not exclusively. Not all staff at the OU and postgraduates are members of UCU and some UCU members may also decide they do not want to join the strike action. Those not taking part in strike action will carry out their work as normal.    

What does ‘taking strike action’ mean?

Strike action means not completing any work in the days specified as strike days. This includes all work such as teaching, researching, marking, administration, meetings etc.  
Any staff taking part in action will lose their pay as a result of participating in the strike.   
In addition to this, some staff may take part in Action Short of a Strike (ASOS), which is an activity that impacts on general business and workplace functions (for example, not covering or supporting others). Staff on strike will generally form ‘Picket Lines’ (boundaries outside buildings) and will encourage other staff and students to not cross these lines. 

What are the issues they are disagreeing over?

The first dispute is in relation to pensions received by University staff, here are some of the issues being discussed: 

  • The overall USS pension fund has been valued with a significant deficit – meaning the projection of future money in the pot does not meet the money promised to future pensioners. The valuation methodology used has been highly contested by UCU.  
  • Proposed pension changes to reduce this pension deficit gap propose both the employers (Universities) and members (University Staff) to contribute more money, with less money paid out to members in retirement than the current scheme offers.

Two years ago, a Joint Expert Panel (JEP) was formed to reassess the pension fund valuation made up of experts from Universities UK (UUK) and UCU. The second phase of the panel has two parts; the first is concerned with the valuation process and governance, the second with the long-term sustainability of the scheme.

The lack of agreement has led to further strike actions planned over the proposed changes. The pay and working conditions ballot (otherwise known as the 4 fights) is fighting over:  

  • The precarity of contracts: Universities rely on a significant number of staff on precarious or casual contracts which do not provide secure or sustainable working conditions.  
  • Pay: UCU have calculated that the below-inflation pay rises since 2009 have meant university staff pay has received a 20% real-terms cut and are asking for pay increases to keep up with increases in inflation.
  • Inequality: The gender pay gap is an issue across many universities. 
  • Workloads: University staff are routinely relied upon to work unpaid overtime.

When exactly are the strikes taking place?  

The forthcoming dates of strike action are: 

  • Wednesday 15 March
  • Thursday 16 March
  • Friday 17 March 
  • Saturday 18 March
  • Sunday 19 March
  • Monday 20 March
  • Tuesday 21 March
  • Wednesday 22 March

We will update this section with new information as and when it is made available.

Will I get advance notice of tutorials that will be cancelled?

UCU members don’t have to participate in any or all of the strike days announced, meaning it’s difficult to know who will be taking part in the action. UCU members that choose to strike don’t need to give the University notice that they are on strike, meaning that unanticipated disruptions are possible. However, we hope that the University will endeavour to inform students of any disruption in advance. 
Will all faculties and courses be affected the same?

No. Some faculties will have higher numbers of UCU members than others, and individual members have the choice to personally strike on each of the days. This means that some faculties may be more affected whereas others may be less affected. 
Will this be the last round of strikes? 

This is unknown at the moment. If no agreement is made on the above issues, UCU has advised that they will seek an escalation in action to include a marking and assessment boycott from April 2023 onwards. We will seek to explore what the impact of this will be on OU students. 
What is the OU Students Association’s position on the UCU strike action? 

Please see the official OU Students Association statement on the UCU strike action.

Where can I read more about each sides position?

You can read the UCU statement here.

UUK, who represent the Universities, have not yet released an updated statement on the latest announced action, but you can read their response to the previous, related action here.