How to claim compensation over the UCU lecturer strikes
Missed out on university because of the UCU strikes? If your classes were disrupted, you could be entitled to a decent amount of compensation.
After spending eye-watering amounts of money on tuition fees, many students will be painfully aware of the cost of each class they missed during the UCU strikes.
If you're thinking about formally complaining about the strikes, you'll likely be joined by a fair amount of others making similar complaints. In 2019, the OIA received the most student complaints they'd ever had – many of which were related to industrial action.
So, for anyone unhappy about the impact of the strikes on their studies, here's how to complain and potentially get compensation.
Why did university lecturers strike?
The industrial action was led by the University and College Union (UCU). Although a lot of the people striking were academics and lecturers, UCU members also include administrators, computer staff, librarians, postgrads and more.
At the affected universities, staff were mostly striking over deteriorating working conditions, issues regarding pay and increased costs on pensions.
When were the UCU strikes?
There have been multiple UCU strikes in recent years, but the most recent industrial action took place over 14 days between 20th February – 13th March 2020, affecting 74 universities across the UK.
Here are the full strike dates for 2020:
- Thursday 20th February
- Friday 21st February
- Monday 24th February
- Tuesday 25th February
- Wednesday 26th February
- Monday 2nd March
- Tuesday 3rd March
- Wednesday 4th March
- Thursday 5th March
- Monday 9th March
- Tuesday 10th March
- Wednesday 11th March
- Thursday 12th March
- Friday 13th March
What have the UCU said about the strikes?
During the strikes in November 2019, a spokesperson for the UCU said they'd been "overwhelmed" by the support from students, adding:
That support on the picket lines was a source of inspiration during last year’s strikes and we are so grateful for [students'] backing again this time around.
Nobody wants to be on strike, but universities' refusal to deal with the issues or even talk to us about pay have left staff with no alternative.
We hope they will now listen to staff, students and shadow education secretary Angela Rayner who are all telling them to get back round the negotiating table with a better offer.
Which universities were affected by the UCU strikes?
Was your uni affected? UCU strikes took place in these 74 universities from 20th February 2020:
|University of Aberdeen||Pay, conditions and USS pensions|
|Aston University||Pay, conditions and USS pensions|
|Bangor University||Pay, conditions and USS pensions|
|University of Bath||Pay, conditions and USS pensions|
|Bath Spa University||Pay and conditions|
|Birkbeck College||Pay, conditions and USS pensions|
|University of Birmingham||Pay, conditions and USS pensions|
|Bishop Grosseteste University||Pay and conditions|
|Bournemouth University||Pay and conditions|
|University of Bradford||Pay, conditions and USS pensions|
|University of Brighton||Pay and conditions|
|University of Bristol||Pay, conditions and USS pensions|
|University of Cambridge||Pay, conditions and USS pensions|
|Cardiff University||Pay, conditions and USS pensions|
|City University||Pay, conditions and USS pensions|
|Courtauld Institute of Art||Pay, conditions and USS pensions|
|De Montfort University||Pay and conditions|
|University of Dundee||Pay, conditions and USS pensions|
|University of Durham||Pay, conditions and USS pensions|
|University of East Anglia||Pay, conditions and USS pensions|
|University of East London||Pay and conditions|
|Edge Hill University||Pay and conditions|
|University of Edinburgh||Pay, conditions and USS pensions|
|University of Essex||Pay, conditions and USS pensions|
|University of Exeter||Pay, conditions and USS pensions|
|University of Glasgow||Pay, conditions and USS pensions|
|Glasgow Caledonian University||Pay and conditions|
|Glasgow School of Art||Pay and conditions|
|Goldsmiths College||Pay, conditions and USS pensions|
|University of Greenwich||Pay and conditions|
|Heriot-Watt University||Pay, conditions and USS pensions|
|University of Huddersfield||Pay and conditions|
|Imperial College London||USS pensions|
|Institute for Development Studies||USS pensions|
|King's College London||USS pensions|
|Keele University||USS pensions|
|University of Kent||Pay and conditions|
|University of Lancaster||Pay, conditions and USS pensions|
|University of Leeds||Pay, conditions and USS pensions|
|Leeds Trinity University||Pay and conditions|
|University of Leicester||Pay, conditions and USS pensions|
|University of Liverpool||Pay, conditions and USS pensions|
|Liverpool Hope University||Pay and conditions|
|Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts||Pay and conditions|
|Loughborough University||Pay, conditions and USS pensions|
|University of Manchester||Pay, conditions and USS pensions|
|Newcastle University||Pay, conditions and USS pensions|
|University of Nottingham||Pay, conditions and USS pensions|
|Open University||Pay, conditions and USS pensions|
|University of Oxford||Pay, conditions and USS pensions|
|Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh||Pay and conditions|
|Queen Mary University of London||Pay, conditions and USS pensions|
|Queen's University Belfast||Pay, conditions and USS pensions|
|University of Reading||Pay, conditions and USS pensions|
|Roehampton University||Pay and conditions|
|Royal College of Art||Pay and conditions|
|Royal Holloway||Pay, conditions and USS pensions|
|Scottish Association of Marine Science||USS pensions|
|University of Sheffield||Pay, conditions and USS pensions|
|Sheffield Hallam University||Pay and conditions|
|SOAS||Pay, conditions and USS pensions|
|University of Southampton||Pay, conditions and USS pensions|
|University of St Andrews||Pay, conditions and USS pensions|
|University of Stirling||Pay, conditions and USS pensions|
|St Mary's University College, Belfast||Pay and conditions|
|University of Strathclyde||Pay, conditions and USS pensions|
|University of Sussex||Pay, conditions and USS pensions|
|UAL London College of Arts||Pay and conditions|
|University of Ulster||Pay, conditions and USS pensions|
|University College London||Pay, conditions and USS pensions|
|University of Wales||Pay, conditions and USS pensions|
|University of Warwick||Pay, conditions and USS pensions|
|University of Winchester||Pay and conditions|
|University of York||Pay, conditions and USS pensions|
How to claim compensation over the UCU strikes
If you decide to complain about the UCU strikes, your first step should be to approach your uni. They may be able to offer you some form of compensation, without you needing to take the complaint any further.
The UCU spokesperson advised:
Students should [...] be demanding that universities put the huge sums of money they will save from not paying staff during the strike into student-facing activities.
And Jake Butler, Save the Student's resident student money expert, said:
In 2018, 575,000 teaching hours were lost to strikes, hitting students hard in lost fees, disruption to grades, and stress.
Given the £9,250 a year fees and amount of pressure there is on students to perform well at university, it's more than reasonable to make a claim.
As an example of how universities have previously compensated students over the UCU strikes, in 2018, the University of Kent offered nearly 5,000 final-year students £50 Amazon vouchers each.
Cardiff University awarded almost £150,000 to 232 students. And, according to a report in The Independent, King's College London refunded a total of over £640,000 to more than 500 students, with the amounts paid to individuals ranging from £122 to £4,500.
However, the same report also states that University College London (UCL) only paid out a total of £6,000 between eight students. Clearly, your chances of success when it comes to claiming a refund from your uni is hugely dependent on where you study.
If your university refuses to offer you compensation (or offers you less than you think is fair), you have the option of taking the complaint further. But, the organisation you'd approach next would depend on whereabouts in the UK you're studying.
Student complaint watchdogs
If you're in England or Wales and you want to take your complaint beyond the university, you could approach the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education (OIA).
In Scotland, you can take complaints to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO).
And, in Northern Ireland, it's the Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman (NIPSO).
If the ombudsman thinks your complaint is justified, they will then advise your university on what they should do next (i.e. whether or not they should offer students compensation and how much).
As long as you have a strong enough case, you could be entitled to a pretty sizeable payout. For example, in 2018, the OIA advised one university to give an international student £1,283.75 over the strikes.
This was because, when the student initially complained about their lost contact hours due to the UCU strikes, their uni had referenced a 'force majeure' clause in response to the complaint. This clause basically means that, if they face issues outside of their control, they aren't obliged to carry out their contractual promises.
But, as the student hadn't been aware of this clause beforehand, the OIA referenced the consumer protection legislation as a reason the student could be entitled to compensation.
To sum up: if you think you should get compensation over the UCU strikes, approach your uni first to see what they can offer you – then consider taking the complaint further if you're unhappy with their response. Good luck!
Want more tips on how to complain and get results? Our handy guide will help.