UCU strike

Latest update

The five days of strike action that were planned from 25 to 29 September 2023 have been cancelled. The Essex branch of the Universities and Colleges Union (UCU) will not take part in the national strike action over these dates.

Strike Action

What is strike action?

Strike action takes place when a group of employees stop working for a period of time because they are not satisfied with parts or all of their current or proposed working conditions.

This strike relates to a continuing national dispute and is in response to concerns about pensions and the final pay award offer made during the most recent national pay negotiations. The disputes include areas such as equal pay, decasualisation and workload where we have been working with Essex UCU for some time, and where we have made more progress than many other parts of the sector. More strike information is available from your Students’ Union.

Do all University employees go on strike?

No. Not all members of staff are members of the union which is going on strike – the University and College Union (UCU). Even if staff are members of the union, they may choose not to go on strike. Some non-union members may also choose not to cross the picket line and participate in the strike in that way.

The University and College Union website contains some useful information on the strike, including resources explaining the action to students. Discussions about the disputes are continuing at the national level, but we are expecting the strike at Essex to go ahead.

We are very sorry for any impact you are experiencing as a consequence of strike action. Please be assured we are taking a number of steps to ensure you are disrupted as little as possible and that you are able to progress with your studies.

How will I know if my teaching or services are affected?

Under UK law, staff do not have to tell us in advance if they are planning to take strike action so it is not possible to be certain how the strike will affect individual modules on strike days.

While we know that the strike will affect some of you more than others, we remain committed to keeping you all updated as far as we can.

Please contact your Department or School if you have any questions or concerns.

Any room changes and last-minute cancellations may be communicated, where possible, via text message to your phone.

Please do check your Essex email and your texts regularly so that we can notify you of any changes as quickly as possible.

What happens if teaching does not take place?

If you come to campus and your lecture or class does not take place, you will be able to use the allocated room and the time for individual or group study. We will be working with your Department or School to provide you with as much advice and guidance as possible.

The University is not operating a policy of requiring other members of staff to cover for colleagues who are not delivering lectures as part of the strike action. However, Departments are working to minimise any disruption where they can. There will be some subjects where there will be no disruption to the usual teaching and many students whose learning is not disrupted by the strike action at all.

Departments and Schools are planning where possible to make alternative arrangements to enable their students to have access to the education material they need to meet their learning outcomes and succeed in their studies.

Where possible, lecture notes and slides will be made available in the usual way and the room in which your teaching was located will be available for group study during the time your teaching was scheduled.

Reducing the impact of missed classes on learning might include offering alternative sessions, making lecture materials available on Moodle or, after the strike, providing additional support or uploading last year’s lecture on Listen Again, where it is relevant.

Will I be assessed on missed teaching?

Departments and Schools will identify subjects that are not covered during the strike action and ensure fair assessment so that no students are adversely disadvantaged and are only assessed on subjects that are covered. Arrangements will be different for each module, dependent on the amount and relevance of affected teaching in relation to other teaching or materials available.

Departments and Schools will communicate to you to ensure you are aware of how our commitment on fair assessment will apply in any modules affected.

How will my attendance record be affected?

For all students, including those from overseas, your attendance record will not be affected by the strike. If you come to campus and your class or lecture goes ahead as normal, just tap in and out as you usually would. If your lecture or class does not take place, or you decide not to come in and it does go ahead, you do not need to tap in and your attendance record will not be affected.

How will my supervision be affected?

If you have any concerns about your academic supervision for dissertations, other coursework or research, whether undergraduate or postgraduate, please contact your Department or School, and they will advise you on the appropriate next steps depending on your circumstances.

What happens if I have a coursework deadline on a strike day?

If you have deadlines for the submission of coursework that fall on days affected by the strikes, you should submit your coursework as normal.

What happens if the strike affects my academic performance?

If, as a result of the strike action, you feel your academic performance is affected, please do not worry. The Board of Examiners will be made aware of any significant strike impact on particular courses or modules so they are in a position to take it into account. You can also consider submitting an extenuating circumstances application to enable the Board of Examiners to determine if and how any impact should be taken into account. Information about the extenuating circumstances process is on our website and contains information about the issues you should consider before applying.

Coming to campus on strike days

Will the University close on strike days?

No. The University will remain open on all our campuses, the library and other study spaces will continue to be available as usual, and much of our teaching will continue as normal. However, there may be some disruption to teaching and other services for some students.

Will I have to pay car parking fees if I am affected by the strike?

For those paying for parking by the hour, parking on Colchester Campus will be free on strike days.

Can I be reimbursed for my travel or care costs if I come to campus and my teaching does not take place? 

The University has agreed to reimburse the costs for any students who may have incurred unnecessary travel and/or caring costs when teaching events were cancelled as a result of the strike action. It has been agreed that a portion of the money deducted from the pay of staff taking strike action will be used to cover these costs and some will be used to enhance our student Hardship Fund.

Eligibility for reimbursement will be calculated solely on the basis of the teaching timetable and using declarations of industrial action by members of University staff.

Eligible students will be those who have had all their teaching cancelled on any one of the three strike days so that their journey to the University that day was unnecessary. Students will not be normally eligible for reimbursement where some but not all of their teaching on any given day was cancelled. No automatic payments will be made. Anybody wishing to seek reimbursement is required to complete and submit the Strike Reimbursement Application Form (.docx), which will ensure payment reflects the actual costs incurred and targets financial support to those most impacted by the strike.

Claims for reimbursement of unnecessary travel and caring costs are in addition to the free hourly parking available on campus on strike days and are separate to applications to the University Hardship Fund.

Costs can still be claimed if a student participated in alternative activities to teaching that took place on campus on strike days, such as peer discussion in teaching rooms, individual study using online resources or any of our additional student support activities.

For travel and caring costs, students may submit a request for reimbursement using the application process along with the details of the costs incurred on one or more of the relevant strike days.

Evidence of expenditure should be submitted with the application, for example, train or bus tickets or receipts, petrol receipts and mileage details, or invoices from caring providers, such as nurseries or day caring centres.

For University nursery costs, enquiries should be made direct to Wivenhoe Park Day Nursery in relation to paid-for but unused Nursery sessions. Eligibility will be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

Action short of a strike

What is a marking and assessment boycott? 

A marking and assessment boycott is when university staff refuse to complete some, or all, of the work associated with assessment of student work. This may include work such as marking, entering marks into databases, working with external examiners, assessing thesis and attending viva examinations, or attending Boards of Examiners etc.

What is action short of a strike (ASOS)?  

Action short of a strike (ASOS) is a form of industrial action. It has the same legal protection as other forms of industrial action, such as strikes.  We will be taking a series of actions to mitigate the impact of this industrial action on students, as we did during the recent strikes. Not all staff will participate in ASOS. 

How will this affect my studies?

For most students, the marking and assessment boycott is unlikely to affect you, but it is important for us to provide assurance as you start the summer assessment period or prepare to submit your thesis for examination.. Not all staff will take part in the boycott, and where they do, many will take steps to minimise the impact where they can. We also have plans in place to manage the impact.

Many of you will be thinking about how this action might impact on you receiving feedback on your work, passing your coursework and exams, progressing to the next academic year, or graduating. I want to reassure you that the University is doing everything we can to ensure that none of these aspects of your studies at Essex are disrupted.

Our focus is on ensuring that your results will be available to you as expected and, where you meet the requirements of your course, you are able to progress to the next stage of study or to graduate as expected.

What action is the University taking?  

We are working to ensure that all the marking and other assessment work is carried out so that there is no, or minimal, disruption to you. We urge you to focus on your studies and prepare for your exams and assessments as normal. 

When will our work be marked? 

As far as possible the work will be assessed in the normal timescales. It is possible that there may be some delays, but we are expecting these to be relatively short. However, because staff do not need to tell us in advance if they are intending to take part in the boycott, it is, at this stage, impossible to determine where delays may occur.  

Who will mark our work? 

The University has rigorous quality and assurance procedures which ensure that work is only marked by people who are well qualified and approved to do so. All our courses have external examiners, experts from other universities, who ensure that the quality of assessment meets national standards. 

PGR thesis assessment and examinations will only be undertaken by examiners who are qualified and appointed to do so.

What support is available?

If for whatever reason you feel you need additional support, our Student Services Hubs are operating in-person, by phone, email and live chat facilities, and can provide information on our range of mental health and emotional support services. Our Students’ Union Advice service is also available for you.

The most important thing you can do now is to focus on your assignments and exams and to prepare properly for them. We have created a Q&A on the student directory but if you have any question that is not answered there, please contact your Department or School in the first instance, who will continue to update you. You can also contact our Student Information Team on askthehub@essex.ac.uk.

We will continue to update you via your Essex email account and also include further information in our student newsletter Essex Spirit and via this page.

Will the University withhold the pay of those participating in the marking boycott? 

There may be salary deductions from those taking part in the marking and assessment boycott. Any such deductions will be used in ways that benefit our students. For example, we are increasing the funding available for students who may need to access hardship support to enable them to succeed in their studies. 

If I don’t have my work marked by the deadline – can I still graduate?  

We are advising all students to focus on preparing for and undertaking their assessments. The University is focused on ensuring results will be available to you as expected and, where you meet the requirements of your course, you are able to progress to the next stage of study or to graduate as expected.  

We do not expect the boycott to prevent students from progressing onto postgraduate courses or onto graduate level employment. We are working hard to ensure all marking and assessment is carried out and are encouraging all our students to continue to prepare for their exams and assessments as normal.  

I need to pass my course to qualify for PG study, could the marking boycott prevent my progression to PG?  

We do not expect the boycott to prevent students from progressing onto postgraduate courses or onto graduate level employment. We are working hard to ensure all marking and assessment is carried out and are encouraging all our students to continue to prepare for their exams and assessments as normal.  

The University will remain open on all our campuses. The Library and other study spaces will continue to be available.

If, on strike days, you find your lectures cancelled or other disruptions to your timetable, you can use our Events pages and the SU What’s On pages to find all the events taking place across our campuses, both in person and online.

Stay Informed

The University will do everything that it can to ensure that the disruption affects you as little as possible. Updates will be posted on this page so check back often.

Staff issues surrounding the strike

Will fee refunds or payments be made to students affected by the strike? 

We are committed to ensuring that the overall impact of the industrial action on student learning is as minimal as possible and that all of intended learning outcomes are met. As a consequence of the actions we are taking to support students and our commitment to maintaining the delivery of high-quality education and student services and to supporting all our students to complete their courses successfully, we will not be providing automatic additional payments or fee refunds or reductions. We do not believe they would be warranted in the circumstances at this stage. This does not, however, affect legal rights under our student contract. We want to address any problems students may experience so we are asking you to let your Department or School know as soon as possible so we can take action immediately.

Although we will not be making automatic payments, we will be using strike salary deductions in ways that benefit our students in two broad areas. We will increase the funding available for students who may need to access hardship support to enable them to succeed in their studies and take advantage of the opportunities offered by an Essex education. We also use the deductions for appropriate measures to support student learning and their wider experience, depending on the circumstances, and work with the Students’ Union to ensure student input into our approach and to enable effective communication. During this academic year, we have agreed to reimburse the costs for any students who may have incurred unnecessary travel and/or caring costs when teaching events were cancelled as a result of the strike action. 

How is the University working to resolve the issues locally? 

There are currently two disputes between the University and the trade union UCU, who primarily represent academic members of staff.  One dispute is about pay and conditions (called “the four fights” by UCU; pay awards, pay gaps, decasualisation and workload) and the other is about changes that have been made to the USS pension scheme.   These are important national issues, which we cannot resolve locally by ourselves. There are also some issues in the four fights dispute where we think we have already made significant progress at Essex and are continuing to discuss with Essex UCU.

The latest strike action relates to the level of pay withheld from staff members participating in the marking and assessment boycott. I want to reassure you that we are doing everything we can to make sure this latest industrial action affects you as little as possible. The University will remain open on all our campuses, the library and other study spaces will continue to be available, and most activities will continue as normal but there may be some disruption. As UK law does not require staff taking part in strike action to inform us in advance, it is not possible to be certain how the action will affect some activities on strike days.

Pay awards

While we recognise the outcome of the cost of living award of 1.8% was disappointing, we have chosen to participate in the national pay bargaining arrangements and are bound by the outcome of the collective bargaining processes. We also work to recognise and reward staff in other ways and we continue to run promotion rounds, annual opportunities for performance related pay and HERA reviews for professional services staff, without any financial limits to these processes.  This means that many members of staff received pay increases for 2021/22 in addition to the cost of living award.

Pay gaps

We are committed to rewarding staff fairly, based on their contribution regardless of their personal characteristics. Regular pay audits confirm that we have no gender pay gaps greater than 5% for equal pay for work of equal value. We are one of a very limited group of universities that have equalised pay between male and female professors.

We recognise that we have more that we can and should do, to reduce the median pay gap between men and women (defined as the difference between men’s and women’s average earnings across the organisation) and have a comprehensive plan in place to address this.  We are also committed to closing the gender, ethnic and disability pay gaps through our People Supporting Strategy. 


The University has a concerted focus on decasualisation and we have been recognised nationally for this: appointing staff to permanent posts whenever we can, only using fixed term appointments in very specific circumstances, and offering increased job security through our Pathway to Permanency scheme.

We worked with our trades unions to carry out a comprehensive review of working practices across the University to ensure we minimise the use of casual and on-demand contracts. Our performance is reviewed regularly by the University’s executive (USG) to ensure that such contractual arrangements are only used where appropriate and that we offer an employment experience to our on-demand workforce that is consistent with the University’s values and standards of employment practice.


Our on-going commitment to address workloads includes using workload models in all of our academic departments. We are committed to improving our student-staff ratio (SSR) and are making good progress in ensuring our academic staff base matches the students we need to support. We recognise more work needs to be done to reduce unnecessary bureaucracy and have made progress in applying the ‘lean model’ and our ‘clear the decks’ approach to prioritising work. We are currently working with the campus trade unions to identify actions that we can take in response to the results of a survey that we conducted into workload together.  


The University of Essex has been a tireless advocate for high-quality, sustainable and affordable pension arrangements which are a significant part of the benefits available to our employees. To ensure that USS is a sustainable scheme, our long-standing position is that all university employers need to commit to increasing employer contributions, alongside increases in employee contributions.

We supported the proposed changes to the USS pension scheme, although we and Essex UCU both agree that a governance review of the pension scheme is needed and would support an additional valuation. Without these changes, or if the UCU proposals had been accepted, the scheme would have been unaffordable for Essex. We also believe it would have been unaffordable for many staff, and lead to more members of staff either not joining the scheme or leaving it. 

Continuing to work to avoid industrial action

We continue to meet with and work with Essex UCU both to work together to manage the strike as effectively as possible and to identify areas where we can work together locally. 

We meet regularly with the Students’ Union too, and have sought student views about how we might best use strike deductions for student benefit.  

How to keep up to date

The impact on teaching and your course will vary depending on exactly what modules you are doing; many modules will not be disrupted at all. Most communications will come through your Department or School, who will let you know of any changes whenever possible.

They will communicate all strike updates via your Essex email address, so keep an eye on your University email account.