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Durham University


Information for staff

Further information on UCU strike action and action short of a strike can be found below.

Email communications to staff

Dear colleagues,

As the strike action enters its seventh day, I would like to thank you all for your cooperation and support. I know this is a difficult time and that strength of feeling is running deep. I also know that you are doing all you can to help minimise disruption, especially to our students, for which I am very grateful.

While the strike action has come about due to the national dispute on pay and pensions, there are clearly other matters which are of concern to colleagues at present. As an Executive, we are listening to these concerns from our staff and the Trade Unions and will continue to do all we can at a local level to improve employment conditions.

One example of this is the Working Group that is reviewing how we can improve the status and conditions of ‘casual’ staff across the University. This group will report to UEC in early 2020.

We all want to see this dispute resolved and continue to urge both sides to remain open to negotiation and compromise in order to prevent further disruption to the education of our students.

It is obviously too early to comment on the impact of the strikes but we will continue to provide information and updates to staff and students through our usual internal communications channels, i.e. the dedicated web pages, direct emails, Message of the Day posts, and Dialogue Signposts.

Our priority remains the welfare of our staff and students. If you have any concerns please do get in touch via Please also use the strike email address if you have any questions that are not already addressed through the online FAQs.

Best wishes,

Stuart Corbridge

Dear Colleagues

This email contains important information for any UCU members intending to take strike action from 25 November to 4 December.

I apologise for having to email all members of staff, as I know the majority of you will not be involved in strike action. However, the University does not know which members of staff are UCU members and it is important we communicate our position in advance.

If you are not a member of UCU the information below will not be relevant, however you may still find it a helpful update in relation to the University’s approach to industrial action.

As outlined in the email from the Vice-Chancellor earlier today the University fully recognises the right of staff to take part in industrial action over the proposed changes to the USS Pension Scheme and the outcome of the 2019 pay negotiations. Please see for details.

Impact on our students

We recognise that staff do not intend to cause damage to student learning prospects. Nevertheless, many of our current students are very concerned about the impact of strike action on their education. Students make a significant financial commitment to their studies at Durham and they have a statutory expectation that we will fulfil our duty to help them to progress their studies and complete their awards. To that end we have a clear policy outlining our approach to strike action, which can be viewed on the web at: . This is important, so please take some time to read the policy.

Our approach to strike action

  • We note that any industrial action which has an impact on the education of our students goes to the heart of the contract of employment;
  • Strike action will incur pay deducted on the basis of 1/365 for each day of action;
  • Arrangements for strike reporting have been put in place in Departments such that all colleagues must inform their departmental contact if they have taken part in the strike action. Details for who to contact can be found here, under the FAQ ‘Who should I contact to confirm I am taking strike action?’;
  • Pay will be deductions for this initial period of strike action will be spread across January and February.

Action Short of a Strike

Action Short of a Strike (ASOS) will also begin on an on-going basis from 25 November 2019, to include working to contract, refusing to cover for absent colleagues, refusing to reschedule lectures that are cancelled due to strike action and refusing to undertake voluntary activities. For the pay dispute only, the ASOS also includes refusing to share materials relating to lectures of classes cancelled as a result of strike action.

The University does not accept partial performance of duties by any member of staff, as this represents a breach of the contract of employment. We have reserved the right to determine the exact timing and proportion of pay deduction for ASOS - one that is deemed serious enough to constitute a breach of contract - when the impact of the action is clearer. Our intention is always to be sensible and proportionate.

We ask that staff taking industrial action prioritise student education needs on non-strike days ahead of other activities. Refusal to do so may constitute breach of contract and result in a proportionate deduction to contractual pay.

We request that staff work with their Head of Department in line with the policy we have developed to deliver on our duty to help our students progress their studies during this period of strike action.

The University will communicate further should it assess at a future date that the impact of ASOS is causing significant problems, including confirmation of the level of any pay deductions for ASOS.

USS Contributions – Important Action Required by Staff Taking Strike Action

There are two options open to members of staff taking strike action:

Option One - if you wish to maintain full employee pension contributions

USS has advised us that if colleagues wish to maintain full contributions during strike action, they must write and confirm that they are taking part in industrial action and that they wish to maintain their full USS employee contributions for each day of action (the University will also maintain full employer contributions where employee contributions are being maintained).

If you wish to maintain full contributions please e-mail no later than 4 December 2019, to confirm that you will be taking strike action, along with confirmation that you wish to maintain full USS contributions for each day of action.

The information gathered will not be used for any purpose other than applying the correct pension contributions.

Option two – if you do not wish to maintain your employee contributions

If you do not wish to maintain your employee contributions on days you are taking strike action you do not have to take any action. If we do not receive an email from you by 5pm on Wednesday 4 December as outlined above, we will not deduct your employee contributions for days you are taking strike action (in these circumstances the University is unable to maintain the employer contributions). Under this option members of staff taking strike action will continue to have cover for death in service and incapacity benefit only.

We will continue to provide further updates as the situation develops. In the meantime you may find the FAQs on the HR web site helpful, please note that these have been updated since the last email communication and we will continue to update these where further questions arise.

If you have any queries that are not covered by this advice please contact your Head of Department, or your HR Business Partner in the first instance.

Finally, I would like to thank you for your efforts to ensure we maintain positive relationships and support our students during this difficult time.

Best wishes

Joanne Race
Director Human Resources & Organisation Development

Dear colleagues,

As you know, the University and College Union (UCU) intends to start industrial action this coming Monday, 25 November, at around 60 universities, including our own.

I can assure you that all members of the Executive appreciate the depth of feeling amongst UCU members with regards to the current disputes on pay and pensions. We also, of course, fully recognise the right of colleagues to take part in industrial action and know that the decision to strike will not have been taken lightly.

Whilst we are just one employer within this national dispute, and are bound by the collective view of employers across the sector, where we can take action at a local level to improve the employment conditions of our staff we continue to do so. We also continue to engage with our local trade union representatives, and have a further meeting with trade union colleagues scheduled for later this week.

We are aware that there are other issues of concern in addition to pay and pensions. We have a group working to improve arrangements for how we enagege casual workers and another looking at how we can reduce our gender pay gap. We will continue to work with our local trade unions on important matters such as these.

It is with deep regret that divisions within the sector are once again threatening to disrupt our students’ education. We have therefore agreed a policy, which Durham SU representatives were consulted on, which sets out how we will use our best endeavours to respect the right of staff to strike whilst also seeking to minimise the impact of the strike action on our students. Please do take the time to read this policy which can be found on the dedicated strike action web pages.

As an Executive, we are committed to the long term success of the HE sector in the UK and feel that any solution to the current dispute should sustain, not undermine, our ability to provide a world-class education for our students.

Whilst I and colleagues in the Executive are generally supportive of the position adopted by UCEA and UUK, we encourage both sides to enter into further discussions to try and resolve the dispute and see how we can prevent disruption for our students. Of course to move this forward, both sides will need to remain open to further negotiation and compromise.

We have created some dedicated web pages for staff and students which can be found at These pages, which include FAQs, will be updated regularly in the coming weeks with the latest information, guidance and messages. If you have any questions, comments or concerns that are not addressed in the FAQs provided, please email

I know that you will maintain collegial and respectful interactions with your colleagues and students, whether or not they decide to support the industrial action, and I thank you for this concern for others. Our focus throughout the strike period will continue to be the welfare of colleagues and students and we will do all that we can to minimise the impact of strike action on the learning experience of our students.

Best wishes,

Stuart Corbridge
Vice-Chancellor and Warden

Dear Colleagues,

You may be aware that three of our four campus trade unions chose to ballot their members for industrial action. The purpose of this email is to inform you of the outcome of the ballots and to set out our position.

Ballot results:

Trade Union

Reason for Ballot

Closing date

Aggregated (national) or Disaggregated (Local) Ballot

Type of Action

Numbers of staff voting in favour **

Outcome – industrial action?


Changes to USS

30 October






(out of 950 UCU members)

Yes to Strike and ASOS


2019 Pay Offer

30 October


Strike ASOS*



(out of 965 UCU members)

Yes to Strike and ASOS


2019 Pay Offer

30 October



Less than 50% turnout



2019 Pay Offer

31 October



Less than 50% turnout


* ASOS = Action Short of a Strike

** Durham University has 4385 employees.

Dates of Strike Action

UCU has notified us that there will be a period of strike action commencing Monday 25 November to Wednesday 4 December 2019.

Action Short of a Strike will also commence on 25 November 2019. UCU has advised us this will be in the form of working to contract; not covering for absent colleagues; not rescheduling lectures or classes cancelled due to strike action, not undertaking any voluntary activities, and for the pay dispute only, the ASOS includes the not sharing of materials relating to lectures or classes cancelled as a result of strike action.

Our position on strike action

We understand the outcome of the 2019 pay negotiations and the proposed changes to USS are important issues that concern many of our staff. We outlined our position in our most recent staff communication on these matters on 15 October 2019. To read a copy of this email, click here.

We also know the decision to vote in favour of industrial action has not been taken lightly by many of our staff, and we respect the right of staff to take part in industrial action. However, we are disappointed by the outcome from the UCU ballot given the potential impact on our students.

We can assure our students we will be working to mitigate impact on their degree studies and are committed to ensuring they continue to achieve their learning outcomes. We will provide guidance to staff and students in the coming days.

Pay and pensions negotiations

Pay and pensions are subject to national negotiations, and, as one of a large number of employers, we have limited influence over the outcome, especially when many other higher education institutions are experiencing significant financial challenges.

We believe the current USS pension contribution rates applied from October 2019 are reasonable, especially as there are no current proposals to change the USS benefit structure. The Pensions Regulator has also publicly made clear that it regards the current total 30.7 per cent USS pension contribution rate as at the limit of what is acceptable.

The 2019 pay offer was at the limit of affordability for many institutions. This delivered base pay increases of between 3.65 per cent and 1.8 per cent, with increases of around 4.8 per cent for more than half the members of staff at Durham who are also eligible for pay progression increases.

Our wider benefits structure remains highly competitive and we regularly review and improve our employment benefits and practices to ensure we remain a responsible and attractive employer for our staff. Where there is a need to make improvements at a local level we will continue to do so.

Deductions to Pay

We are required to set out, in advance, our position on pay deductions in relation to strike action, and ASOS, which is as follows:

  • We regard that any industrial action that has an impact on the education of our students goes to the heart of the contract of employment;
  • Where strike action is taken we will deduct pay on the basis of 1/365 for each day of strike action;
  • We do no not accept partial performance of duties by any member of staff. This means that if you take part in strike action, or refuse to carry out any part of your normal contractual duties, you will be in breach of your contract of employment, and we are entitled as a consequence to make a deduction to contractual pay of up to 100% for each day of partial performance;
  • We reserve the right to determine the exact timing and proportion of pay deduction for ASOS (that is deemed serious enough to constitute a breach of contract) when the impact of the action is clearer. We retain the right (without prejudice to the right to deduct 100% at a later time) to vary the amount of pay deducted for each instance of ASOS.

Next steps

Heads of Department will shortly be invited to attend engagement sessions with UEC members to discuss the industrial action.

A copy of this email and a dedicated email contact address are available on our strike action website, which will shortly be updated with more information.

Needless to add, I hope, and in addition to the formal position we are required to set out on pay deductions, the Durham senior team remains committed to dealing with difficult issues in a collegial and sensitive manner.

Best wishes,

Stuart Corbridge, Vice-Chancellor and Warden