Frequently Asked Questions

The University is continuing to work with our trade union representatives to discuss potential resolutions to the national disputes over pensions, pay and working conditions. We will keep these pages updated with the most recent information.

There is also guidance available on the Office for Students website.


About the disputes and industrial action

What is industrial action?

Industrial action is a general term for legal actions taken by members of a trade union in protest against their employer. The most common form of action is strike action. During strike action, some staff refuse to work and may join picket lines to protest. This can sometimes lead to some classes being cancelled on days when University teachers are taking industrial action.

A picket line is a form of protest where people congregate at a location, in this case usually outside University buildings, to draw public attention to their cause.

However, staff on picket lines should not stop you from entering a building or prevent your access to any part of the campus to attend your class or other activities. No staff member wants to disrupt students’ education and these picket lines should not feel intimidating.

During a period of industrial action, your class could be cancelled at the last moment or with very little notice. This is because, under British law, anyone undertaking industrial action does not have to notify their employer in advance. If your class is cancelled you should still come to the University to study and use our facilities such as the library and Students’ Union.

The Students’ Union building will be open as usual during any disruption, and Students' Union Officers have stated that all students will be welcome there to gather and study with friends during any periods of industrial action.

Why are University staff taking part in industrial action?

The industrial action relates to ongoing disputes throughout the higher education sector about university pension schemes and national pay negotiations.

The dispute over the USS pension scheme relates to an increase in contribution rates which the USS Trustee has decided are necessary to maintain the pension benefits unchanged. As a result the University's contribution rates (quoted as a percentage of salaries of USS members) have increased in October 2019 by 1.6% and member contributions have increased by 0.8%. The UCU position is that all of the increase should be borne by the employers.

The University has been working very closely with the University and College Union (UCU) over the past 18 months to better understand and address the issues relating to the financial health of the scheme and we share many joint aims and perspectives. We want to see a scheme which is good quality, sustainable and affordable and we share some of the concerns that UCU has raised.

The dispute over the outcome of the national pay negotiations also includes a range of non-pay issues. The University is continuing to participate in national negotiations between the Universities and Colleges Employers' Association (UCEA) and the recognised higher education trade unions, a process supported by our trade unions locally.

The University is also continuing to work with its local trade unions on a range of matters which are of concern to them and colleagues across the sector to find ways to address issues such as workload pressures, stress and mental health concerns, casual working and gender and ethnicity pay gaps.

As a University, we will continue to work in partnership with the trade unions to address these matters locally, inform our position, as well as use our influence to try to shape the national debate.

What are the dates of the industrial action?

UCU have proposed 14 strike dates spread over four weeks, as follows:

  • Thursday 20 and Friday 21 February
  • Monday 24, Tuesday 25 and Wednesday 26 February
  • Monday 2, Tuesday 3, Wednesday 4 and Thursday 5 March
  • Monday 9, Tuesday 10, Wednesday 11, Thursday 12 and Friday 13 March
What is being done to resolve the dispute?

We are working in partnership with our trade unions to address these issues locally and to use our influence to try to shape the national debate, urging all parties to reach a negotiated solution.

The University has been working closely with the University and College Union (UCU) for some time to better understand and address issues relating to the pension dispute and we share many joint aims and perspectives. We want to see a pension scheme that is good quality, sustainable and affordable and we share some of the concerns that UCU has raised.

The Joint Expert Panel (JEP) was set up by UCU and UUK following the 2018 industrial dispute to examine the valuation of the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) and we welcomed their second report released in December 2019, which we hope will provide a basis for finding a sustainable solution.

Following the release of the second report, Universities UK (UUK), UCU and USS have met several times to discuss reform to the USS pension scheme. These talks are reported to have been positive and constructive and focussed on building a common understanding on the future of the scheme, the 2020 valuation and governance issues. There has been an agreement that these talks will continue through February and March 2020.

Read about the progress from the talks

The dispute over national pay negotiations also includes a range of non-pay issues including workload pressures, stress and mental health concerns, casual working and gender and ethnicity pay gaps.

Since the last round of strikes ended in early December 2019, positive talks are continuing between the Universities and Colleges Employers' Association (UCEA) and UCU over the national pay dispute and UCEA have offered national level proposals on matters relating to casual working, workloads and gender/ethnicity pay gaps.

Read about UCEA's proposal

We are also continuing to work with our local trade unions to find ways to address these issues on a local level.

Read about our joint work

As part of this work, we have reached an agreement with UCU to ensure regular scheduled teaching is undertaken by staff on employment, not casual contracts. We are committed to further joint work.

Read our joint statement about the agreement

What happens to the money that the University saves by not paying staff taking industrial action?

Pay deductions from staff in academic departments will be retained in those affected departments and will be used to put in place measures to support the experience of our students affected by the action and where possible to mitigate the impact on students’ learning. In determining the use of funds, Heads of Departments have been advised to seek input from students affected by the action.

Pay deducted from staff in Professional Services departments will be collated centrally. Some of this funding will be directed to the student hardship fund, and any student who has incurred out of pocket expenses as a result of the action will be eligible to seek reimbursement from those funds. The remainder will be made available to ensure additional student support activities can be provided where needed.

Teaching and assessments

Will my examination dates or hand-in deadlines for coursework be changed?

Contingency plans will be in place to cover exam periods and exams will go ahead as planned. You are therefore expected to attend all exams and submit all assignments, in accordance with the University's General Regulations.

Standard university guidance says that, unless you are informed otherwise, you should assume that all deadlines for coursework will remain in place and plan to submit your work accordingly. However, we recognise that some submission deadlines and supervision sessions may be affected by the strike and so this will be taken into account by your department who will advise of any specific changes to deadlines. Normal penalties will apply to coursework that is not submitted by the revised deadline. Please contact your department for more advice about this.

Will my work be assessed within the normal turnaround period?

Our aim is that all work will be assessed within the normal turnaround period. However, we appreciate that some assessments may be delayed and that some feedback to students could also be delayed owing to the industrial action. Your department will be monitoring this and will provide you with revised dates for the return of feedback. We will continue to monitor the situation and keep you informed.

What if an in-class assessment does not take place because of the industrial action?

If an in-class assessment is cancelled because of the industrial action, then we will encourage departments to ensure that the assessment of these learning outcomes is rescheduled as far as possible or assessed by other means. Your department will take all of these factors into account when considering the marks awarded.

Will my marks be affected by the industrial action?

Departments will assess if industrial action has impacted on the learning and assessment of each module affected and if it is considered necessary, fair and reasonable adjustments can be made for the whole group of students. Boards of examiners will be aware of any impact the industrial action has had upon assessment and feedback and will take this into account when finalising results.

If you feel that you have been particularly disadvantaged by the impact of the industrial action, then you may also fill in an extenuating circumstances form in the usual way. Please give the dates for the period you were affected, and an account of how you have been affected. No evidence is required to be submitted.

Submit an extenuating circumstances form

Will I need to complete an extenuating circumstances form because of disruption to my learning and/or assessment?

Departments will assess if industrial action has impacted on the learning and assessment of each module affected. If it is considered necessary, then fair and reasonable adjustments can be made for the whole group of students.

If you feel that you have been particularly disadvantaged by the impact of the industrial action, then you may also fill in an extenuating circumstances form in the usual way. Please give the dates for the period you were affected, and an account of how you have been affected. No evidence is required to be submitted.

Submit an extenuating circumstances form

I am in my final year. Will my degree classification be affected?

No. We have robust procedures in place to ensure that students’ marks that contribute to a degree award are considered fairly at the Board of Examiners meeting. We have provision in the University’s General Regulations to adjust marks if this is deemed to be appropriate. The University will maintain high standards for the awards of degrees and the process will be as rigorous and robust as in previous years.

I am an undergraduate – will I be able to graduate or progress to my next year of study?

We expect that students will be able to graduate or progress as planned, relevant to their stage of study. There are no planned changes to graduation ceremonies at this stage. The University will keep this under review and inform you if there are any changes due to ongoing industrial action.

How will the University advise students if a lecture is cancelled?

The University is doing whatever it can to reduce the impact of the industrial action on students. In the event of a lecture or class being cancelled, department contacts should email in advance wherever possible as they would with any staff absence. However, if this isn't feasible, departments will aim to check lecture theatres and rooms where teaching was due to take place and, if appropriate, advise students of the cancellation so they aren't waiting unnecessarily. Where it is appropriate and legally compliant to do so, departments may consider engaging people, including students, if they are willing to do so to help with this aim.

Will there be attendance monitoring during the strike?

Yes, classes will still be monitored during the strike. The University’s Student Attendance Monitoring policy applies to all students, irrespective of whether they are a Home/EU or an overseas student. It aims to identify issues with attendance to facilitate early provision of support to enable students to fulfill their academic potential.

You should attempt to attend every class or lecture as normal. If classes or lectures are cancelled as a result of the strike, you should make a note of it.

What if my lecture or class is cancelled?

Where a teaching session is cancelled as a result of strike action, a student will not be recorded as absent. Students will be recorded as ‘authorised absence’. This applies only to classes that are cancelled. It does not apply to rearranged classes which you should attend as normal.

Where a contact point is impacted by strike action but still takes place (e.g. it is being covered by another member of staff or is rescheduled) students are expected to be in attendance unless they have obtained prior permission to be absent in line with usual procedure.

How will I know if alternative arrangements are made?

If, as a result of strike action, a department considers implementing alternative arrangements for students, these arrangements will be communicated to students. It is important you check your University email account regularly.

Am I allowed on campus during the industrial action if my lecture is cancelled?

We would encourage you and your classmates to come to the University even if your lecture is cancelled. Here you will still be able to work together and benefit from peer-to-peer learning and we are making sure there are plenty of spaces for you to do this in the Students’ Union building and across campus. Our libraries will remain open during the action and are an excellent resource for your continued learning.

Support

Will I still be able to get access to student support services?

The University will continue offering student support services throughout the industrial action. You can access this through the Student Services Information Desk (SSID) and the Disability and Dyslexia Support Service (DDSS).

In addition, all welfare and clinical support services will be open. You can seek health and wellbeing support from Central Welfare and Guidance (CWaG), the University Health Service (UHS), and Student Access to Mental Health Support (SAMHS).

For parents, the Students’ Union Nursery will remain open.

Where can I go for support?

We understand that industrial action can cause additional stress and pressure on top of your studies.

If you are struggling with your mental health and wellbeing, the Student Access to Mental Health Support (SAMHS) service is available to you.

Register with SAMHS online

The Students’ Union building will be open as usual during any disruption, and Students' Union Officers have stated that all students will be welcome there to gather and study with friends during any periods of industrial action.

If you need help finding information about industrial action, we are developing a dedicated information line for students which is available, 9am-4.30pm on 0114 215 7770.

I feel worried about crossing a picket line

No student should feel intimidated about crossing any picket line and we have proactively been working with both the Students’ Union and local trade unions to make this clear. We will continue to ensure this is the case. If however you feel intimidated in any way or witness any behaviour you find concerning, please telephone Security Services on 0114 2224085 to raise your concerns or 0114 2224444 for an emergency response.

If you have any concerns that are affecting your mental health and wellbeing, the Student Access to Mental Health Support (SAMHS) service is available to you.

Register with SAMHS online

If you feel that you have been the target of harassment or bullying during the strikes then you can use our Report and Support system to make a confidential disclosure or a formal report. This will be addressed within 72 hours.

Report and Support

I am a disabled student and am finding accessing teaching difficult due to picket lines. What support is available to me?

Please contact your department or the Disability & Dyslexia Support Service to discuss this. The presence of picket lines may affect individual students in different ways, so it is important to make contact with DDSS so that staff can understand the specific issues for you. Staff on picket lines should be understanding of any access requirements. Industrial action is usually intended to cause general disruption but is not intended to create unnecessary hardship for individual students.

I am an international student with a Tier 4 visa. How will the strike affect me?

Where a teaching session is cancelled as a result of strike action, you will not be recorded as absent. This means your Tier 4 visa status will be unaffected.

If your teaching session is cancelled as a result of strikes, please make a note of it in case you are asked about it later.

This only applies to classes which are cancelled. You should attempt to attend every class or lecture as normal, as well as any rearranged classes. If a teaching session is affected by the strike action, but still takes place (for example, if another member of staff covers the session), you are expected to attend unless you have obtained permission to be absent beforehand, following usual procedures.

I’m studying abroad outside of the UK and I’m struggling to contact my tutor

If you have been affected by the industrial action during your studies overseas, and you are struggling to reach your tutor in Sheffield we recommend contacting the departmental contact listed on the right hand side of this web page. If your query is not of an academic nature, please contact our Global Opportunities and Exchanges Team with your queries:

If you are struggling with your welfare during your time at your study abroad institution, you can seek advice from your host institution in the first instance as they will be best placed to deal with immediate issues. You may also wish to seek support from our Central Welfare and Guidance team:

How can I claim reimbursement for out of pocket expenses I have incurred because of industrial action?

If you find that all your lectures and seminars have been cancelled that day with no notice due to the industrial action, you may be entitled to a reimbursement of costs that you have incurred, such as for travel and childcare.

To apply for reimbursement, please retain your proof of purchase and submit an application form via MUSE:

Apply for reimbursement

Postgraduate Researchers (PGR)

What happens if my supervisory meeting is cancelled?

If you have a planned supervisory meeting on a strike day you should assume that it will go ahead, unless informed otherwise. If any supervisory meetings are affected as a result of strike action, every effort will be made to reschedule them as soon as possible following the strike.

What happens if my viva is scheduled for a strike day?

In the unlikely event that your viva is affected by strike action, every effort will be made to inform you of this in advance and to schedule an alternative date at the earliest opportunity.

Can I still submit my thesis on a strike day?

Research Services will remain open throughout the industrial action, so you will be able to submit your thesis as normal.

Graduate Teaching Assistants (GTA) and casual workers

I am a GTA/casual worker and I want to take part in the strike action. What will be the impact on my pay?

Casual workers and GTAs who plan on withdrawing their labour in support of the industrial action will not be paid for any work missed on those days.

GTAs and casual workers who participate in the industrial action do not need to complete a notification form and should simply not claim hours that they had planned/been scheduled to work.

I am a GTA/casual worker and I can’t do my work as someone I was supporting has not turned up due to strike action, what happens to my pay?

You will be paid for the hours you were due to work on that day. You will need to inform your departmental contact who will process the hours for payroll as per the normal process.

You may be asked instead to undertake alternative, grade appropriate tasks for which you are suitably skilled and/or trained to undertake.

Complaints

Can I claim compensation as a result of the industrial action?

As the present industrial action arises out of matters which are beyond the University’s reasonable control, it is not obliged to compensate its students in circumstances where it takes all reasonable steps to minimise the potential disruption to those students.

The University remains committed to delivering an educational programme for each student during any period of industrial action and it will seek to ensure that students remain able to complete their programmes of study and graduate as anticipated.

All reasonable attempts will be made to make contingencies for students to continue their studies without detriment to their learning opportunities and assessment outcomes. These may include rescheduling lectures, agreeing extensions to assessment deadlines, and assessment boards may be given exceptional instructions to ensure students are not disadvantaged or penalised. The current industrial action is happening as a result of a national matter which this University cannot resolve by itself. However we will continue to work with our national representatives to press for a fair resolution as quickly as possible.

If any student is dissatisfied as a result of the impact of the industrial action then they remain entitled to raise their concerns by way of the University’s student complaint procedure.

You can also speak to the Student Advice Centre for support and guidance.

What do I do if I have a complaint?

If you wish to make a complaint then please visit our complaints procedure pages for more information.