Over the last year, UCU (University and Colleges Union) have been on strike. The Cambridge branch of UCU joined every other university in the country in a series of strike days over Michaelmas and Lent term.
This page will host information about the strikes and what the SU is doing and where you can find support.
The SU Council voted in favour of supporting the strikes and the Marking Boycott, and to provide support for students facing disruption to their education. See below for the support we’re providing.
Currently, UCU has balloted for a Marking and Assessment Boycott. (MAB) There are not any planned days of strike action this term. To find out more about the MAB read our blog post here. We also hosted a Q&A session with UCU, click here to access notes from this session.
If you want to contact your Academic Rep, you can find them here. If you want to contact the UCU Rep in your department, email email@example.com.
- The University recently emailed all students [26/05] about Graduation Ceremonies. It said: 'Ceremonies marking the end of studies will take place on the dates previously scheduled for General Admission (28 June-1 July) for students having taken the following degrees: BTh, BA, VetMB and BA with MEng or MMath or MSci. '
- The University has put in place alternative procedures that retain many elements of the usual graduation ceremony to allow students to celebrate with their peers. Students are able to graduate in absence or at a later occasion but this option will no longer be open if you choose to attend ceremonies at this time.
- Please read the University webpage for more information.
- For information about graduation, see above.
- If you have concerns about your visa, please contact the International Student Office for advice.
- The University is working on how to support students who need either a transcript or a letter of exemption in order to progress to a new job, study, or visa. They will update their FAQ page accordingly.
- At this time, just continue to take your exams as normal.
To stay up to date, please check the University's FAQ page which is updated regularly.
Information about how Graduations will be affected following the recent University announcement about the Marking Boycott
Written notes covering some of the questions asked and answered in the recent UCU Marking Boycott Q&A Meeting.
FAQs written by and for PhD students about how to support with the UCU Marking and Assessment Boycott
An update and explainer on a potential Marking Boycott for Easter term.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the UCU?
UCU is the University and College Union, the trade union for academic and academic-related staff in Further and Higher Education. UCU organises nationally, but has local branches. These include your lecturers, professors, and supervisors. The ballot to strike and take part in the Marking and Assessment Boycott was voted on nationally, and so every University will be taking part . For more information, head over to the Cambridge UCU website.
What is the marking and assessment boycott?
According to the UCU website: ‘A marking and assessment boycott covers all marking and assessment processes that contribute to summative assessment decisions for students/learners, whether final (i.e. graduation/completion) or interim (i.e. progression decisions). All summative marking and assessment, at all levels, are covered in the boycott--undergraduate, sub-degree, and postgraduate--so it will include all taught postgraduate summative assessment; PhD final vivas and MPhil to PhD progression/confirmation vivas/assessments. It applies to all forms of higher education and professional training: full-time, part-time, or distance learning.’
How could this affect my end of year exam?
Most supervisors are employed on a college level and therefore are not part of this dispute which is University-employed staff only. Therefore, marking of supervision essays (such as for revision) would likely continue as normal. If your supervisor is faculty-employed, however, it is likely that they may be part of the MAB. It likely that all students will continue to sit their exams as normal. However, invigilation is part of the boycott so there is a chance that some exams may not take place or may be delayed due to lack of invigilators. You can ask you faculty directly about their expectations with regard to this. Academics who are UCU members and would usually mark exams will ‘boycott’ this, refusing to mark exams or act as an external examiner until a better offer is negotiated. If the MAB is brought to an end by productive negotiations, exams will likely be marked afterwards thus giving students their results (but delayed)
I need results to graduate-what will happen?
The University is allowing this disruption to continue, meaning graduations may be affected if they refuse to negotiate a better deal within this time. However, it’s important to remember that these MABs will happen in every university across the country. While it is stressful, you are not alone. All students nationally will be halted in their progression, meaning careers and other educational institutions will likely be understanding and put in place mitigations to allow progression (otherwise, final year students across the country won’t be able to take up any jobs!). While graduation is really important, it’s also important for your benefit that your exams are marked fairly – read under ‘What is the University doing’ for more information. There may be delays to graduation ceremonies.
Why is the boycott happening?
Any student who has been here for a few years will know that UCU has been striking since 2018 and Universities have refused to engage or negotiate a proper deal. Academics and Academic-related staff are currently being treated without dignity or respect in their workplaces (with low pay, pensions, lack of workplace contracts, and unsustainable workloads). These issues directly affect us as students too. One of UCU’s demands is that Universities take action against casualisation: it isn’t in our interests to have many of our lecturers or support staff without a stable contract, unsure if they’ll still be here to teach next year. The Higher Education system as a whole is failing and drastic action is needed. The MAB is an ‘escalation’ of action and it is clear that the University is already very scared by this. It’s not action taken lightly and many academics feel very upset about the disruption this causes students, but they feel they have no other choice if they want the University to become a liveable place for them to work in. The MAB will cause disruption to the University, forcing them to take the concerns of their staff seriously. UCU members hope that, with the strength of feeling demonstrated by the reballot and the consultation of all members, the additional pressure will force the employers back into meaningful negotiations, making the MAB unnecessary or short-lived. In this year’s round of strikes, negotiations have seen huge wins on pensions, proving that industrial action works. However, staff pay has already declined on average by 25% between 2009 and 2021, and the current ‘offer’ from employers would lead to a further 15% pay cut. Negotiations can make progress, but the outside pressure of a MAB is needed to push employers to give a dignified pay offer. MABs occurred in around 20 Universities last year, (such as the University of Kent) and most ended relatively quickly. The threat of disruption is so large that hopefully the MAB will not last long. .
What is the university doing to stop this?
The best thing the University could do right now is push for the national employers’ bodies (UCEA for pay and conditions and UUK for pensions) to make offers that UCU members can accept, thus bringing the MAB to an end. The University Council has proposed some changes to the examination system to mitigate the impact of the MAB.
How is the SU planning to support you?
- Communicating clear information about the strikes to students to ensure you always know what’s happening and what it means for you.
- Lobbying the university for exam and assessment mitigations to adjust for content which is not taught because of strikes.
- Working with student groups and UCU over the coming weeks to support all students’ education throughout the boycott.
- Pushing the University and their national representatives to come to the negotiating table and bring the boycott to an end.
- Supporting you with individual issues and concerns relating to your education during the strikes via the Student Advice Service
What can I do if I have concerns as an International student?
If you have any concerns about the impact of the strikes on your studies or any other issues relating to your time at Cambridge University, the Student Advice Service are available for all students to access. The Service offers free, independent, impartial and confidential guidance and support. To ask a question or arrange an appointment to speak to an Advisor, please visit their contact page. You can also ask the international student office for more specific information on visas.
How can you show solidarity with striking staff?
Students have an amazing power to make a direct impact on strike action. The most successful strikes (and therefore the shortest strikes) are those which receive strong support. You can support the strikes in many different ways:
- Sending an email or speaking to staff showing your support. Nothing means more to many staff considering striking than knowing that students are behind them.
- Choosing not to cross picket lines on strike days, where you feel able to do so, is a powerful way to show your support for the strike. The SU will be organising alternative ways to access your education during strike action. (see above).
- Volunteering to help out with our breakfast runs to the picket lines. Even if you aren’t doing a breakfast run, you can still show up to teach-outs, picket lines, and rallies in solidarity.
- Book rooms in your college to study and share with fellow students, as studying in college does not pass a picket line.
Is it safe to assume that those who previously took place in the teaching strike will take place in the MAB?
It is quite likely, but nothing is guaranteed. UCU members will each be making an individual decision about whether or not to engage in the MAB. People will be deducted pay for taking part, so we cannot predict what the members will decide to take part in. People may make this decision on the day
Will there be a picket line?
No. There are no strikes this term so there are no plans for any picket lines. You can enter all university property as normal.
Will my faculty tell me if my exam is going ahead?
No one in UCU is obligated to inform staff that they are going to be taking part.Faculties will likely attempt to find out beforehand what is happening and take appropriate action. Some exams in Cambridge and elsewhere have been cancelled to avoid this situation happening. Students should assume all will go ahead as planned.
What about if students have Alternative Modes of Assessment?
UCU advises all members to be aware of students' needs. Processing student requests for additional support and extensions should not be affected.
Could the University choose to base my grades on my work from the last year or this year?
There has been no indication that exam grades would be judged on anything but the exams (e.g. not grades from previous years or earlier in the year). Contact your faculty directly for confirmation about this.
Will grades be marked eventually
The negotiation will bring this to an end eventually. It is a delay, not a cancellation. There may be some sorts of exams that may be time sensitive or need to take place in a certain way that get cancelled, but something else will be substituted to allow students to progress In broad terms, what is assessed will be assessed at a later date. The period of time UCU is allowed to take this action is a 6 month duration, but don’t expect that it will be active for that long. The latest possible date is September 30th as this is the end of the Industrial Action mandate, but it is not likely that the boycott would last this long.