University news

Strike action: Everything you need to know

Reading Time: 9 minutes

First published: 7 February 2020
Updated: 10 March 2020

Last week, the University and College Union let us know the details of their industrial action. We’re working hard to give students as much notice as possible of disruptions and cancelled sessions, and we’ll provide regular updates through My Manchester and My Manchester news. In the meantime, we’ve compiled some FAQs to answer any questions you might have about the strike action or how you might be affected.

If you have a query which isn’t answered below, please contact:

For information on why the strikes are taking place and our response, click here.

When are the strikes taking place?

  • 20-21 February 2020
  • 24-26 February 2020
  • 2-5 March 2020
  • 9-13 March 2020
  • Continuous action short of a strike until 29 April 2020

Who are the UCU?

The University and Collage Union is the main trade union in many universities for academic and academic-related staff.

What is ‘strike action’ and ‘action short of a strike’?

On the strike days, UCU members may choose not to work. In this case, there will be picket lines where UCU members maintain a presence outside of buildings. Details of how picket lines should be observed are detailed below.

UCU will ask its members to take action short of a strike in the following ways:

  • Working strictly to contractual hours
  • Not covering for absent colleagues
  • Not rescheduling lectures or classes cancelled due to strike action
  • Not undertaking any voluntary activities

Will we be open during strike days?

Yes. We will be open as usual during the action and core activities and services will continue to operate as normal.

How might the industrial action affect my studies?

From experience, the impact will vary between different parts of the University and each School will be looking at how to best minimise any disruption during the industrial action.

We won’t know the number of staff participating in the industrial action until the strike days themselves, as they are not required to notify us in advance. Of our 12,000 staff at the University, just over 2,000 are UCU members. The average number of staff that took strike action in the last period between 25 Nov to 4 Dec 2019 was 440 per day, this represents 3.85% of our workforce.

How will my timetable be affected?

We may not know in advance which individual staff members will take direct strike action. Your lecturer might tell you in advance that they either will or will not be teaching on a strike day, but the legal position is that they are not obliged to tell us in advance. This means that you may not find out about any cancellations until the day the session is due to take place. We will make every reasonable effort to contact you in advance about any changes or cancellations and primary communications will come via your department/school.

How will you cover lost teaching?

We will be asking staff if they are willing to make up lost teaching. Where this is possible we will do our best to facilitate this, for example, by rescheduling classes, augmenting teaching with podcasts from previous years or reorganising teaching in the existing timetable.

Can I access the podcasts of previous lectures?

We ask all staff to record their lectures as a matter of routine because students tell us they value these recordings as study/revision aides. In the case of industrial action, we will ask those lecturers who are on strike if they are willing to make recordings available to help their students. This will, however, be an individual decision for lecturers.

Do I still have to submit my coursework?

If you have been set coursework, you should submit this on time, as usual, and work on the assumption that normal penalties will continue to apply to the late or non-submission of coursework. This includes deadlines falling on planned strike days.

What will happen to my assessment and exams?

If you have scheduled assessments/exams, you should continue to prepare for these and attend them as directed.

Schools will continue to meet published deadlines for return of feedback to students wherever possible. However, the industrial action may mean that some feedback is returned later than expected. We have asked all Schools to prioritise teaching and assessment activities over other work where possible.

Where scheduled teaching time is cancelled and cannot be rearranged, steps will be taken to ensure that subsequent assessment for the affected units takes this into account. Examination Boards, which make decisions regarding student performance, will be aware of any impact the industrial action has had upon learning, assessment and feedback, and will be able to take this into account when deciding upon results.

Where cancellation of teaching or delays in returning marks and providing feedback may affect students’ ability to prepare for coursework assignments, examination or another form of assessment, the School will provide the Examination Boards with the relevant information to enable it to take account of the disruption when determining results. There is no need to report the disruption to a member of staff or complete a Mitigating Circumstances form for this specific purpose.

Can I claim mitigating circumstances?

The Examination Boards in your school will be provided with information on the scale of industrial action on each unit, which will enable them to ensure steps were taken to minimise the impact of industrial action when considering your marks. This will happen for all students who experienced cancelled learning, so there is no need for individual students to complete a Mitigating Circumstances form for this specific purpose. 

However, you may feel that you have been particularly impacted by the industrial action, because of circumstances which are personal to you:  for example, you may have an existing health condition which has become worse as a result of the Industrial action. In these circumstances you then should feel able to submit a mitigating circumstances form to your programme team or School. You should find deadlines for submission of mitigating circumstances forms published in programme handbooks or on School intranets.  You can find more details about the Mitigating Circumstances Procedure here.

How will this affect my marks?

You will receive an email from your School regarding the action being taken to assess the impact of the industrial action. Our overarching goal is to ensure that all students are treated fairly and are not negatively impacted as a result of industrial action.

I’m a Tier 4 student. Will this affect my visa?

As long as Tier 4 students continue, wherever possible, to attend all contact and engagement points, your visa status will be unaffected by the industrial action. If the industrial action leads to some of your engagement points being cancelled, your School will put alternative engagement points in place.

I am an inbound study abroad/exchange student, what will be the impact of Industrial action on me?

It is expected that any impact will be minimal. Students will be able to complete the units they elected to study at the University of Manchester, undertake any associated assessment, and have grades confirmed in line with expected schedules. The standard examination period in May/ June will be maintained. Please discuss any concerns you may have with your Department/ School. If you need any additional support please contact

I’m a student undertaking supervised research. How will this affect me?

All students undertaking supervised research must continue to observe existing protocols, including health and safety procedures. If strike action raises concerns for supervision of any aspects of conducting research or practical experiments, you must obtain permission to continue and seek advice from your Supervisor or, if unavailable, your Head of School.

I’m a research student. How will this affect my progression?

You should work on the basis that the viva (oral examination) or annual progression review meeting will go ahead as planned, and submit their theses on schedule. If a viva is scheduled to take place during the period of planned strike action and you wish to confirm whether the industrial action is likely to affect your viva, you should contact your supervisor or School Office.

Will I be able to graduate or move on to my next year of study?

We expect all eligible students to be able to graduate as planned and continuing students to be informed of their progression status. We will ensure that eligible students are able to graduate or progress to the next year of study.

Can I cross a picket line?

Yes you can A picket line will be formed by staff on strike and their supporters, at the main entrances to various buildings across campus. 

This is a legitimate form of protest but you are absolutely entitled to cross the picket line, come onto campus, and gain access to buildings. It is unlawful for protestors on the picket line to prevent or obstruct you from making your way onto campus, or to attempt to intimidate you in any way. We expect that the protests at the entrances to campus will be noisy and lively, but also respectful of the rights of the vast majority of our University community who are not on strike.

No student should feel intimidated about crossing a picket line and remember that those who are taking strike action are our colleagues, co-workers and your lecturers. You should not have any concerns about crossing a picket line to attend your lectures, study in the library or use any of the campus facilities – which will be open.

If your lecture, or other taught/scheduled session is running as normal, then you should attend this as normal. We will not make any arrangements to replace sessions that are running normally so you should be aware of this if you decide not to attend them. If crossing a picket line is making you feel anxious, there’s lots of support available through the Student Support website.

What will you be using strike pay deductions for?

The University will not benefit financially from the strikes, but instead will make sure the money from pay deducted from those UCU members taking strike action will benefit students.

The University of Manchester Students’ Union and the University agreed that money will be reinvested into benefiting students in the following areas:

  • Additional investment into disability and student support services
  • Additional funding for scholarships for financially disadvantaged students
  • A series of student-led sustainability initiatives

How much money will be available from strike pay deductions?

Colleagues are required to report if they have taken industrial action, but not to notify the University in advance. Until we have full numbers we cannot know the level of pay deduction from strike action.

Can I claim a refund for the impact of industrial action?

We charge a composite fee for our courses – this means that the overall fee is made up of various different elements in addition to the face-to-face tuition students receive. These include things like registration, examination fees, access to IT, use of the library, student support services (e.g. advice and guidance service, careers service, Students’ Union). Consequently, we cannot reimburse individual students for specific elements of missed teaching and assessment.

We have published a breakdown of what tuition fees are spent on.

How do I complain?

We have put in place measures to ensure that students are not academically disadvantaged by the strike action and can progress and graduate as planned.

However, you may have been impacted in a way which is not directly related to your academic performance. For example, you may consider that the University has not reasonably attempted to provide alternative learning opportunities. If you wish to complain, there is an established complaints procedure you can follow. We recommend all students that wish to submit a formal complaint discuss it with their School in the first instance to see if the problem can be solved quickly and easily without the need for a formal complaint.

The national Office for Students (OfS) has also provided advice for students.

You can also receive impartial support and advice from UMSU Advice Service.

Can I withhold my tuition fee?

It is important that you continue to pay your tuition fees by the published due date.

Where a tuition fee payment remains outstanding beyond the published due date, an indicator will be applied to the student’s record. They will be notified of this via their University email account and asked to contact Credit Control to arrange payment. Until payment or a payment plan has been agreed they will be unable to re-register or graduate.

If you intend to withhold fees due to strike action, you must formally lodge a complaint via the established Student Complaints Procedure. Where a student has submitted a formal complaint and withholds fees, no sanctions regarding progression or graduation will be taken by the University whilst the case is in progress.

Where can I find some information about how much teaching staff earn in higher education?

The Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) publishes national pay data sets and comparative pay between different professions. You can view this information here.

Our approach

We fully recognise the rights of staff members to take industrial action, and we know that staff will have thought very hard about whether to vote and how to cast their vote. We are disappointed that a solution could not be found to avoid this situation, as industrial action of any kind is always highly regrettable and our priority is to minimise any impact on our students.

We know that this is an anxious time for students, as well as our staff, and we have contingencies in place to ensure that any impacts on learning are mitigated and that future decisions relating to their progression, degree outcome and graduation can be taken irrespective of the impact of this industrial action.

Our overarching advice to students is to work on the basis that your studies will continue as normal unless you are told otherwise. This means you should attend scheduled teaching, complete and submit assessments by the relevant deadlines, and continue to plan for any examinations. Non-attendance at teaching which continues to take place will be marked as an absence.

Where can I get support?

If you can’t contact your Personal and/or Academic Advisor or Supervisor during the industrial action you should contact your School Office.

While the industrial action means that some staff may decide not to work on designated strike days, we are open for business as usual. This means that all the normal support services will be available.

This is causing me a lot of stress and anxiety. What should I do?

We are doing everything we can to protect the interests of our students and to ensure that you are not disadvantaged. If you are feeling stressed or anxious, there’s lots of help and support available through our Student Support website.

More information:

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