How to claim compensation over the UCU lecturer strikes
Missing out on university because of the UCU strikes? If your classes are disrupted, you could be entitled to a decent amount of compensation.
After spending eye-watering amounts of money on tuition fees and living costs, many students will be painfully aware of the cost of each class they have missed during the various UCU strikes.
If you're thinking about formally complaining about the strikes, you could well be joined by many others doing the same. In 2019 and 2020, the OIA (the official body for student complaints – more info about them below) received record numbers of complaints, and among them were complaints related to industrial action.
If you're unhappy about the impact of the strikes on your studies, here's how to complain and potentially get compensation.
Why are university lecturers striking?
The industrial action is being led by the University and College Union (UCU). Although a lot of the people striking are academics and lecturers, UCU members also include administrators, computer staff, librarians, postgrads and more.
At the affected universities, staff have been striking over USS pensions, working conditions and issues regarding pay.
When are the UCU strikes?
Strike action took place at 68 universities in the UK in February 2022.
These were the dates of the strikes, based on the staff members' reasons for striking:
- 14th – 18th February: USS pension dispute only (affected 44 institutions)
- 21st – 22nd February: Both disputes (affected 68 institutions)
- 28th February – 2nd March: Pay and working conditions dispute only (affected 63 institutions).
There was also industrial action short of a strike at the universities affected by strikes, plus at an additional six institutions. This involved uni staff working strictly to their contract and refusing any additional duties.
Which universities are affected by the strikes?
These were the 68 universities where lecturers went on strike in February 2022:
|Aston University||Pay, conditions and USS pensions|
|University of Bath||USS pensions|
|Birkbeck, University of London||Pay, conditions and USS pensions|
|University of Birmingham||Pay, conditions and USS pensions|
|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|
|University of Chester||Pay and conditions|
|City, University of London||Pay, conditions and USS pensions|
|Courtauld Institute of Art||Pay, conditions and USS pensions|
|University of Dundee||Pay, conditions and USS pensions|
|Durham University||Pay, conditions and USS pensions|
|University of Edinburgh||Pay, conditions and USS pensions|
|Edinburgh Napier University||Pay and conditions|
|University of Essex||Pay, conditions and USS pensions|
|University of Glasgow||Pay, conditions and USS pensions|
|Glasgow School of Art||Pay and conditions|
|Goldsmiths, University of London||Pay, conditions and USS pensions|
|Greenwich University||Pay and conditions|
|Heriot-Watt University||Pay, conditions and USS pensions|
|Imperial College London||USS pensions|
|Institute of Development Studies||USS pensions|
|Keele University||Pay, conditions and USS pensions|
|University of Kent||Pay, conditions and USS pensions|
|King's College London||Pay, conditions and USS pensions|
|Kingston University||Pay and conditions|
|University of Lancaster||Pay, conditions and USS pensions|
|University of Leeds||Pay, conditions and USS pensions|
|University of Leicester||Pay, conditions and USS pensions|
|University of Liverpool||Pay, conditions and USS pensions|
|Liverpool Hope University||Pay and conditions|
|London School of Economics||Pay, conditions and USS pensions|
|London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine||Pay, conditions and USS pensions|
|Loughborough University||Pay, conditions and USS pensions|
|University of Manchester||Pay and conditions|
|Manchester Metropolitan University||Pay and conditions|
|Newcastle University||Pay, conditions and USS pensions|
|University of Northampton||Pay and conditions|
|Northumbria University||Pay and conditions|
|University of Nottingham||Pay, conditions and USS pensions|
|Open University||Pay, conditions and USS pensions|
|Oxford Brookes University||Pay and conditions|
|Queen Margaret University||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||USS pensions|
|Roehampton University||Pay and conditions|
|Royal College of Art||Pay and conditions|
|Royal Holloway, University of London||Pay, conditions and USS pensions|
|Royal Northern College of Music||Pay and conditions|
|University of Salford||Pay and conditions|
|University of Sheffield||Pay, conditions and USS pensions|
|Sheffield Hallam University||Pay and conditions|
|SOAS, University of London||Pay, conditions and USS pensions|
|University of St Andrews||Pay, conditions and USS pensions|
|University of Stirling||Pay, conditions and USS pensions|
|University of Strathclyde||USS pensions|
|University of Sussex||Pay, conditions and USS pensions|
|Swansea University||Pay, conditions and USS pensions|
|UAL (University of the Arts London)||Pay and conditions|
|UCA (University for the Creative Arts)||Pay and conditions|
|UCLan (University of Central Lancashire)||Pay and conditions|
|UCL (University College London)||Pay and conditions|
|University of Ulster||Pay, conditions and USS pensions|
|University of Westminster||Pay and conditions|
|Writtle University College||Pay and conditions|
|University of York||Pay, conditions and USS pensions|
Additional universities affected by action short of a strike
In addition to the 68 unis that were affected by strikes, staff at these six universities were taking action short of a strike:
- Bishop Grosseteste University
- Bournemouth University
- Leeds Trinity University
- Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts
- St Mary's University College Belfast
- University of Winchester.
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.
In 2019, a UCU spokesperson said:
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 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.
The University of Kent is a good example of a university that's previously paid students compensation over the strikes. In 2018, they offered final-year undergraduate £50 vouchers following industrial action.
And, according to a report by The Independent in 2020, King's College London had refunded a total of over £640,000 to more than 500 students, with the amounts paid to individuals ranging from £122 to £4,500.
In comparison, the same report said that University College London (UCL) had only paid out around £6,000 between eight students after they'd complained.
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.
Ombudsmen for student complaints
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 industrial action.
This was because, when the student initially complained about their lost contact hours due to the industrial action, 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.
Want more tips on how to complain and get results? Our handy guide will help.