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Between 2018 and 2020, the University and College Union (UCU) coordinated a series of strikes across UK universities. Further industrial action was curtailed by the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic from March 2020. Following the return of a degree of normality to university campuses from September 2021, the UCU once again balloted its members between October and November 2021 for industrial action.

Staff at 58 universities will go on strike from 1 December to 3 December. Staff at 64 universities will also undertake action short of strike for a period of five months, including strictly working to contract and refusing any additional duties. A list of universities where staff will take industrial action in December has been published by the UCU.

The disputes between university employers and staff that have prompted industrial action are longstanding.

The first concerns proposed changes to the pension scheme for many university staff – the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) – which will mean increased contributions and reduced benefits. A parallel dispute concerns several issues related to pay and working conditions, including pay levels, gender and minority ethnic pay gaps, staff workload, and insecure contracts. This dispute has been dubbed the ‘four fights’.

Universities are expected to take steps to avoid or limit disruption to students. This might include making up for any lost teaching or learning time and ensuring students are not disadvantaged if changes must be made to assessments. 

Whether students are entitled to tuition fee refunds following industrial action depends on what other actions a university has taken to minimise lost learning opportunities. Students should make any complaints to their university in the first instance. If students are not content with the outcome of a complaint, or if they believe it has been poorly handled, they can contact the relevant higher education ombudsman for their country. 

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