Message from the Principal: Industrial action update 5 December 2019
The Principal has written to all students to update them following the recent industrial action by members of the University and College Union (UCU).
Yesterday marked the end of eight days of strike action, by some members of staff, at Queen Mary and other universities across the UK. I deeply regret that we have had strike action at Queen Mary, and for any impact on your education and experience. I know staff across our University have worked really hard to minimise the impact of the strike upon you, and I have thanked them for their tireless efforts. I would also like to thank you, for your patience, and for the respectful behaviours shown by students and staff throughout the strike period.
Two key issues have been raised by students in relation to the strikes: first, whether students will be affected in the January examinations and secondly, whether students are entitled to compensation as a result of missed teaching.
We will make sure you are not disadvantaged in relation to any assessments in December and January, and at other times. If you have formal written examinations in January, there will be a supplementary sheet provided with the question paper that will give you clear instructions about what to do with any questions on missed content. For example, you might be told to leave out some questions, or that some questions are optional.
Will I be compensated for any missed teaching?
We are currently gathering information from schools about the impact in their areas, and when we have a clearer picture of the impact we will then see how much content has been lost, and what it is possible to make up. It is worth noting that tuition fees contribute to a wide range of services and facilities in the course of the year, such as learning resources, student support, campus and facilities management, other professional services, and funding of the Students’ Union. It would be incorrect therefore to define the tuition fee only in relation to contact time, or in terms of a daily rate.
What is the University doing about the issues raised by the strikers?
The issues at the heart of this industrial action – USS pensions, pay, equality, casualisation, and workload levels – are serious and complex. Finding acceptable, and, in terms of pensions and pay, affordable and sustainable, solutions is one of our highest priorities. Pay and pensions are negotiated at a national level. It is worth noting that the average pay rise this year for Queen Mary staff was 3.5%, with the lowest paid receiving a higher increase of 4.7%. There is work continuing at national level to resolve the dispute about pensions, and you can read more about this issue here. In relation to the other issues raised, the employers’ national association met with the national trade union UCU last week and I understand had a positive conversation on the topics of equality, casualisation and workload, with further possible dialogue to follow. These three issues are areas where there has already been work going on at Queen Mary for some time. We are addressing these issues locally at Queen Mary, and we know we have further work to do.
Equality of pay and pay gaps
One of the issues raised is gender and ethnicity pay gaps. Pay gaps should not be confused with equal pay: there is no evidence at Queen Mary that female or BAME staff are paid less than their white or male counterparts for doing jobs of equal value. There are, however, at Queen Mary and across the sector, fewer women than men in senior academic roles, and fewer BAME colleagues in senior positions as well. This leads to a difference (in relation to gender) between the average of all men’s salaries at our University compared with all women’s. This difference is referred to as a pay gap. Our median gender pay gap last year was 10.07%, compared to a sector average of 13.7%. These figures are published on our website. We are determined to eliminate the gaps over the course of our new University Strategy, and we are taking positive steps forward, such as training which is specifically targeted at under-represented groups. There is already a Steering Group guiding this work, led by Philippa Lloyd (VP Policy and Strategic Partnerships), with representation from UCU and our Students’ Union. If you have ideas about other work we could do in this area please have a look at the work we are already doing, and contact Laurence Gouldbourne. We must continue to focus on supporting female and BAME colleagues to progress to senior levels in the University; in relation to gender, we have some success in our professional services, where there are more women than men in senior roles.
We are working to ensure all staff are employed on appropriate contracts. We realise some schools and disciplines wish to use fixed-term contracts more than others, to enhance the overall education offer to students, and we are working with those schools and disciplines to review if their use is absolutely necessary.
PhD students also frequently hold fixed–term contracts, which allow them to do some teaching, demonstrating and other activities to support the University for which they are paid. This gives them valuable experience and enables them to supplement their grant income. We also employ undergraduate students on fixed-term contracts, for example to work at open days. These are opportunities our students value. UCU does not however currently distinguish between staff and students on fixed-term contracts in their messaging. We are looking at different options to address the concerns raised and we will work with students, staff and the trade unions to consider various options.
Workload was one of the key issues raised in this year’s staff survey, as well as through this industrial action. I know that staff have highlighted that workloads are high for colleagues across our University, and we need to work together to find solutions that enable colleagues to have a good work-life balance and not to suffer any work-related stress. A Task and Finish group has been established to engage with staff across the University to address the issues raised. This group has identified key areas of focus and established a way of working that will mean that all staff are able to input their ideas.
I would like to finish by thanking you once again for your patience and collegiality through this period. The issues raised here are complex, serious challenges, but if we work together I believe we can make progress in addressing them.
If you have any further questions in relation to the industrial action, do have a look at the FAQs, or contact your Head of School or Institute.
Professor Colin Bailey, FREng, BEng, PhD, CEng, FICE, FIStructE, MIFireE
President and Principal | Queen Mary University of London | Mile End Road | London | E1 4NS