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Durham University

Notices

Information for students

  • Mitigating the impact of the industrial action on students is our highest priority
  • We have been working with every academic department to ensure no student is disadvantaged in assessments and examinations as a consequence of the industrial action

Latest email communications to students

Dear Students,

Two weeks ago I wrote to share University policies concerning examinations, and assessments other than examinations, in modules affected by the strike. Subsequent conversations and emails I have received have made clear that many students are still concerned about the impact of strike action on their module marks. This is understandable. I am writing today to share with you some of the things we are doing to address this concern.

As you may be aware, the University has a standard process for considering exceptional personal mitigating circumstances – things beyond a student’s control – called Serious Adverse Circumstances (SACs). In addition to the usual process, we have put in place measures to automatically consider mitigating circumstances for all students affected by the strike. Where teaching has been disrupted in a specific module, either for all students or for a specific group of students, Boards of Examiners will consider the extent to which the disruption is likely to have affected a student’s performance. Where appropriate, the Board will apply the equivalent of a SAC to affected students.

How will a Board of Examiners gauge the impact of the strike? Each department is keeping track of:

  • which members of staff have taken strike action on which days;
  • which modules were affected on those days;
  • what mitigations have been provided to students in those modules;
  • what the overall impact of the strike has been on the learning experience of students in those modules.

The impact of the strike on individual students varies significantly. The purpose of this policy is to calibrate the decisions of Boards of Examiners to this fact. The decisions of Boards of Examiners will be informed by this detailed information when confirming degree classifications and considering students enrolled in modules affected by the strike.

You do not need to submit a SAC form simply because of strike action. There may, nonetheless, be exceptional reasons relating to personal circumstances which give you good reason to submit an individual SAC form. To better understand the options available to you, please consult the full policy at durham.ac.uk/notices/strikeaction/.

I hope that the information above gives you confidence about the policies and processes used to mitigate the effects of the strike on your education.

As ever, our primary concern is the wellbeing of our students and staff, so if you do need support at this time, please refer to the FAQ on available support.

All the best,


Alan Houston
Vice-Provost (Education)

Dear students,

Industrial action by members of the UCU is planned to start this week and to run for 14 days over the next four weeks as follows:

  • 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

As a reminder, many members of staff are not in the UCU, and will not be striking. Those who are UCU members may strike all 14 days, or only a subset of them. Staff intending to strike may choose to inform their students of their intentions but they do not have to inform the University in advance. Therefore I ask all students to act on the assumption that classes will be held as scheduled, and that assignments may be submitted as usual, on each day of the strike.

Our policies on mitigation, examinations and assessments can be found on our dedicated strike action web pages along with answers to frequently asked questions.

If you have any questions regarding these policies, please contact your academic department in the first instance. Support is also available through the Student Support Office within your College.

All the best,

Alan Houston

Vice-Provost (Education)

Dear students,

The University’s mitigation policy is intended as a pragmatic route between the right of staff to take part in industrial action and the need of students to fulfil the learning outcomes required by their programme of study. Recent conversations with students and staff have indicated that the potential impact of strike action on examinations and assessments is a growing topic of concern. I am writing to update you on university policies for both undergraduate and postgraduate taught students.

Examinations Policy

Where delivery of material for assessment by examination has been affected by the strike, the following policy will apply:

Actions identified in the University’s mitigations policy are sufficient to ensure that learning outcomes are met, but not sufficient for examination. Students will be responsible for learning material covered through mitigations, but they will not be tested by examination on it.

An important premise of this policy is that we expect you, as students, to develop and demonstrate independent learning skill. Not every learning outcome relies on material delivered in lectures and other classes. At the same time, we do not require every learning outcome to be assessed by examination. Exams are one of many different methods used to ensure the rigour and high quality of a Durham education.

It is possible that some exam papers will need to be adjusted to reflect this policy but this will not happen until after the last day of planned strike action (13 March).

Assessment Other Than Examinations Policy

Where delivery of material for assessments other than exams (e.g., essays, projects, labs and presentations) has been affected by the strike, the following policy will apply:

In modules where the delivery of material has been affected by the strike, departments will audit assessments other than exams to ensure that students are assessed and marked fairly.

Given wide variety in the nature and purpose of assessments other than exams, and variation in the impact of the strike on them, each department will determine how best to implement this policy.

If you have any questions or concerns about how these policies will apply to your course, please contact your department. Please be assured that we are committed to your educational success and will continue to do all we can to mitigate the impact of the strikes on your studies.

We will add these policies to the FAQs on the University web site shortly. Please check the site regularly for information and updates.

All the best,

Alan Houston
Vice-Provost (Education)

Earlier email communications to students

Durham University and University and College Union (UCU) at Durham are jointly committed to ensuring that all colleagues working across the University are treated fairly, with terms and conditions and rates of pay which are appropriate and clearly defined.

Last year, following the submission of a claim regarding casual work, the University and UCU began a series of constructive meetings to discuss this issue. Simultaneously a University working group led by Professor Antony Long, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, has been reviewing the University’s flexible workforce to ensure that all staff at Durham are engaged appropriately. It is recognised that this is a complex issue but significant progress is being made.

Casual staff across the University perform distinct and valuable roles in supporting the University deliver its strategy. This includes students who engage in teaching/related roles which provide valuable development opportunities.

Durham UCU and Durham University have agreed a core set of principles that will underpin fair and equitable treatment for those working in casual positions across the University.

In future, the University will limit the use of casual contracts, with a preferred position to offer employment contracts where possible, which will provide improved terms and conditions for colleagues. The University will review our current casual staff and, where appropriate, will transfer these staff onto employment contracts. It is anticipated that this will realise a significant reduction in colleagues engaged on casual contracts. At any time, casual staff may ask that their status as a casual worker be reviewed. Going forward, the University will proactively monitor and manage the use of casual contracts.

There will be equality of opportunity, with all roles advertised and a transparent, proportionate and non-discriminatory recruitment process followed.

Durham UCU and Durham University agree that everyone engaged at the University must be fairly paid for all work that they are required to undertake. There will be equality of payment, with roles aligned to the University pay scales at the appropriate grade, and all employees will receive any annual cost of living increase. There will be transparency over the calculation of workload and payments, along with the expectations of the role.

Durham UCU and Durham University are very pleased to have worked together to reach such a positive understanding, and look forward to the approval of specific recommendations and implementation for the 2020-21 academic year, along with further discussions related to fixed term and other casual arrangements. Further joint statements between UCU and the University will be issued as we make more progress.

Tuesday 4 February - Update: Strike Action

Dear students,

I am writing following the recent announcement by the University and College Union (UCU) that it intends to ask its members across 74 higher education institutions to begin 14 days of strike action on Thursday 20 February.

The designated UCU strike dates are:

  • 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

It is disappointing that a decision in favour of further strike action was taken when national talks on the future of the USS pension scheme are still ongoing and when efforts to resolve a parallel national pay dispute are registering progress around casual employment, workload issues and the gender pay gap.

That said, the University’s position has always been that we respect the right of our staff to take strike action – a decision which is never taken lightly - even as we regret the impact on you and your education. Colleagues across the University are working hard to mitigate the impact on your degree studies and to put in place measures to ensure you achieve your learning outcomes.

I and the University Executive will continue to do everything we can to ensure you feel supported. We will also continue to urge both sides in these national disputes to remain open to negotiation and compromise in order to prevent further disruption to teaching and learning.

As last Term, we will provide information and updates through our usual internal communications channels, i.e. the dedicated web pages, direct emails, Message of the Day posts, and Dialogue Signposts. Should you have any queries which are not answered through these channels, please email strike.action@durham.ac.uk

Best wishes,

Alan Houston
Vice Provost (Education)

Dear Students,

I’m writing to update you on the pay and pensions dispute which resulted in industrial action last term.

A series of joint talks began last week between members of the University and College Union (UCU), Universities UK (UUK) and Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS). You can read the full press release announcing the talks on the USS Employers website and also the statement from UCU

The purpose of these talks is to discuss the future of the USS pension and the recommendations of the second Joint Expert Panel (JEP) report, which was published in December. I very much welcome this development and am hopeful that a compromise will be reached. As a University we will continue to do everything possible to encourage a resolution to the dispute.

While there is now a positive development, I understand that those of you who were affected by the stikes may still be concerned about the educational impact on your studies. Mitigating the impact of strike action on students is our highest priority, and we continue to focus our efforts on ensuring that all students can meet the learning outcomes of their programmes of study.

If you have any questions or concerns regarding classes which were cancelled due to the strike, please speak to your academic department in the first instance. To find out more about mitigations, please read our policy here.

All the best,

Alan Houston
Vice Provost (Education)

Dear Research Student,

As you are aware, the University is part of national disputes over pensions and pay. For information about these disputes, see the pages maintained by UUK, and UCEA and UCU.

These are difficult issues for all members of the community. The decision to strike will not have been taken lightly; our staff are dedicated to their students, and do not wish to undermine their education.

With this in mind, last week we issued a strike mitigation policy. As you will recall, that policy is intended as a pragmatic route between the right of staff to take part in industrial action and the need of students to fulfill learning outcomes required by their programmes of study. Many of the mitigations are geared to students on taught programmes. What of students on postgraduate research programmes?

Some research students may experience disruption through the cancellation of PhD viva voce examinations. Others of you may have had meetings with your supervisors cancelled due to the strike. If you are affected in this way, your department will be asked to work with you to reschedule these activities. The current forms of Action Short of a Strike (ASOS) do not preclude those who have participated in the strike action from rescheduling these types of activities.

If you are conducting experimental research, please first ensure that there is a local health and safety supervisor. Departments have been asked to provide cover, to the best of their ability, for staff on strike; given the importance of health and safety, you should adhere to the “local” rules established by your research group or department.

Durham’s institutional policy is that mitigating the impact of the strike on students is the highest priority. This is true for all students, including those pursuing research degrees. We hope that this message provides some assurance. Do not hesitate to raise your concerns with your supervisors and your department. If you have questions that they cannot answer, please contact us at strike.action@durham.ac.uk.

All the best,

Alan Houston Colin Bain

Vice Provost (Education) Vice Provost (Research)

Dear Students,

I am writing to update you on the mitigation policy shared last week. As you will recall, that policy is intended as a pragmatic route between the right of staff to take part in industrial action and the need of students to fulfill learning outcomes required by their programmes of study.

Recent conversations with students and staff have indicated that examinations and assessments are a special area of concern. It is too early to know the impact of the strike on specific modules. Nonetheless, I wish to reassure you that we will be working with every department to ensure that no student will be disadvantaged in assessments and examinations as a consequence of industrial action. All evaluations will be fair, consistent and transparent.

We have added a set of FAQs to the strike action information web pages. As new questions and concerns emerge, we will post answers to them. You may contact us at strike.action@durham.ac.uk if you have any questions which are not covered by the FAQs.

Please continue to act on the assumption that classes will be held as scheduled, and that assignments may be submitted as usual, on each day of the strike.

All the best,

Alan Houston
Vice Provost (Education)

Dear Student,

I am writing to update you on industrial action planned to run from 25 November to 4 December, and to outline plans to minimise the disruption of your learning experience.

As a reminder, the strike planned to run from 25 November to 4 December is national, and concerns conflicts between the University and College Union (UCU) and Universities UK (UUK) over pensions, and between UCU and the University and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) over pay.For information about these disputes, see the pages maintained by UCU, UUK, and UCEA.

These are difficult issues for all members of the community.The decision to strike will not have been taken lightly; our staff are dedicated to their students, and do not wish to undermine their educational experiences.It is with this in mind that we have developed a policy concerning ways to mitigate the impact of the strike.The full policy can be viewed online.Its purpose is to identify a pragmatic route between the right of staff to take part in industrial action and the need of students to fulfil the learning outcomes required by their programmes of study.

The period of industrial action will span eight days.However, many members of staff are not in the UCU, and will not be striking.Those who are UCU members may strike all eight days, or only a subset of them.Staff intending to strike may choose to inform their students of their intentions.They are not, however, obligated to inform the University in advance.Therefore I ask all students to act on the assumption that classes will be held as scheduled, and that assignments may be submitted as usual, on each day of the strike.

Whilst opinions across our community will vary on these complex national issues, we hope that we can all remain united in a common respect for all our community members throughout this time.

I will provide updates on a regular basis.You can also find information, all messages, policies and answers to frequently asked questions on our dedicated strike action web pages: www.durham.ac.uk/notices/strikeaction

All the best,

Alan Houston

Vice Provost (Education)

Dear Durham University Students,

You may be aware that the higher education trade union UCU has voted in favour of industrial action. The purpose of this email is to provide further information and to outline our commitment to continuing to deliver high standards of education.

UCU 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?

UCU

Changes to USS

30 October

Local

Strike

ASOS*

405

454

(out of 950 UCU members)

Yes to Strike and ASOS

UCU

2019 Pay Offer

30 October

Local

Strike ASOS*

379

445

(out of 965 UCU members)

Yes to Strike and ASOS

* 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 industrial 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 their right to take part in industrial action. However, we are disappointed by the outcome from the UCU ballot given the potential impact on you, our students.

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.

Our Commitment to you

We will be providing updates for you on a regular basis, and would like to take this opportunity to affirm our commitment to the following:

  • We seek to ensure that you all receive the necessary education and support to enable you to meet the learning outcomes of your programme of study;
  • We will pursue all available options to minimise disruption to you;
  • We are working with academic staff to develop policies and procedures that meet these objectives;
  • We will ensure that these policies and procedures are consistently applied;
  • During the strike all college and departmental offices and central services will be open as usual.

We ask that you act on the assumption that classes will be held as scheduled and that assessments can be submitted as usual. If this is not possible, then we will do our best to rapidly communicate this to you and find alternative means of ensuring that all learning outcomes are met.

A copy of this email and a dedicated contact email address is available on our strike action website, which will shortly be updated with further information : https://www.dur.ac.uk/notices/strikeaction/

Best wishes,

Stuart Corbridge, Vice-Chancellor and Warden