March 20, 2018

Where next?

Our sector has struggled and failed to find a resolution to the conflict on how best to assure the future of the USS pension scheme while preserving the best possible benefits for its members.We have now experienced weeks of industrial dispute. We cannot continue to simply drift into weeks or months of further strikes, with staff losing money and students losing confidence that we can deliver the educational or research experience that they signed up for.

The ACAS negotiations did of course produce a compromise proposal that might have brought an end to this dispute. Clearly it did not. I do think that there are things that both employers and union representatives can do to build on that proposal which might include further enhancing the employer contribution to USS. However, in order to get to that increased flexibility and mutual understanding, we first need to pull together what the vast majority of our sector can probably agree on, much of which I have been advocating for many months now.Perhaps if we can start with those building blocks we can then begin to move forward. So here are four things that we might have consensus on, that can help us construct a solution:

  • Defined Benefit must remain part of USS - The original JNC decision to entirely remove the defined benefit element of USS cannot stand. I have long been on record as saying that I do not believe that this is necessary and I still believe that to be the case.
  • A new independent valuation of USS,by a truly independent panel, is needed to replace both the September and November valuations as it is clear neither of those has sufficient credibility with all parties for us to build a solution based on them.
  • A collective defined contribution scheme needs more detailed consideration. Such a scheme could help maximise members pension provision while also providing more certainty to both those members and the pensions regulator. If we have truly independent panel considering the scheme’s valuation perhaps we could ask them to also consider that.
  • Let’s get serious about Government backing.USS, UUK and UCU need to start actively engaging with the Government to explore the option of the USS pension scheme becoming a government backed scheme, perhaps some sort of mirror of the Local Government Pension Scheme. I have seen several similar calls for that to happen but the call I really want to see is for at least one of the organisations to pick up a phone and propose that to a minister. Who knows you might actually find that it’s the one way forward that everyone can agree on.

Those are all the things I am confident we have, or can achieve a wide consensus for. I call on all parties to this dispute to work together now to use those areas of agreement to build a solution.


- 5 comments by 3 or more people Not publicly viewable

  1. Georg

    Dear Stuart,

    just as the strike started I wrote to my MP, Vince Cable, to highlight concerns about the research that UUK failed to do on impact of the proposed changes to the USS pensions.

    On Friday I received a letter from Vince Cable with correspondence between himself and Sam Gyimah regarding the government guarantee, which Vince Cable has also called for.

    The crown guarantee has also been analysed here:

    Needless to say the minister rejected the call for the guarantee. I suspect he is being ideological rather than reflective. I also suspect that he has not really been challenged to think about and research this question, nor have the treasury who will be the final arbiters in this matter.

    Perhaps it would be useful for the VCs to collectively ask someone to undertake some research into the effects of a significant cut in the value of the USS pension on the ability of the sector to continue to attract the talent it relies on. This work would have impact and be extremely sueful when arguing with the government about the guarantee.

    Best wishes,

    Georg von Graevenitz

    20 Mar 2018, 17:01

  2. Daniel Katz

    Dear Stuart,

    Thank you for that very helpful contribution to the discussion. If I may, I’d like to ask for some further clarifications. When your reiterate your very welcome insistence that Defined Benefit “must remain part of USS,” two questions arise. First: would this be on a permanent basis, or as part of a transitional arrangement, as some others have suggested? Second: how big a part? Obviously, the last proposal did include DB, but we UCU members found a cap of £ 42,000 and an accrual rate of /85 unacceptable. We are indeed insisting on DB, but the conditions attached to it also need to meet a certain threshold. Can you give any idea of what you think a reasonable DB component would be?

    Many Thanks,
    Daniel Katz

    20 Mar 2018, 18:04

  3. Stuart Stanley

    There has been much comment on the fact that the changes to USS will make it far less desirable scheme than both the TPS (for academic staff) and LGPS (for professional staff) which are found at some other (newer) Universities. Is there an option for Universities not currently part of TPS and LGPS to switch their future pension provision to these schemes if the provision from USS is deemed to no longer support the needs of their memebrs?

    21 Mar 2018, 08:35

  4. Alastair Smith

    Dear Stuart,

    Thank you for your continuing public support. It’s clear that such solidarity between VC’s and university staff has facilitated several changes in the UUK position: most recently last Friday.

    Having said this, I have concerns around the ways in which some University of Warwick administrative processes create tension for, rather than support, the fact that local Industrial Action is mounted in solidarity with your intellectual leadership at the national scale. Here, there was excellent early coherence: for example, the recognition that the rate of pay deductions for strike action and ASOS should be reduced. However, other universities elsewhere in the UK are now providing more coherent support for staff making the sacrifices apparently necessary to pressure decision makers on the points you raise.

    Specifically, I personally observe that the following issues are giving rise to significant levels of staff anxiety, and are therefore negatively impacting welfare, in what is already a very difficult financial, intellectual and emotional period:

    1) At other universities, such as the University of York, “deductions will be spread over a four month period from April to July, with a quarter of deductions due being taken in each month”, thus ensuring that pay deductions incurred, while fighting for what we all agree is right, do not impose any more unnecessary hardship than is pragmatically necessary. However, I’m not aware that the University of Warwick has made a clear statement on this issue, and the possibility to lose significant pay in larger chunks is naturally of concern.

    2) Currently, the University of Warwick is reserving the right to penalise partial performance at the rate of 25% and has not made any statements concerning pay deductions re reschedule teaching—which the UCU clearly indicates is part of legal ASOS. By contrast, other universities, such as Sussex, have declared that no additional deductions will be made for ASOS, including rescheduling. Instead, they have mandated adjustments in module assessment to ensure students are not disadvantaged and no artificial tensions created between the interests of staff and those of students.

    3) The local UCU has raised concerns with HR, now on a number of occasions, that the self declaration form for strike action is not fit for purpose. However, as far as I am aware, these concerns have not yet been responded to; while at the same time, HR continue to publicise the expectation that this form be used by staff as one of two possible reporting mechanisms.

    I thank you again for your principled public leadership in addressing the core issues of the pension grievance. If you can bring further influence to bear on administrative process, and thus consolidate solidarity, I am certain this would alleviate anxiety. It would be hugely appreciated if the university can reduce current pressures on the welfare of both students and staff, as they continue to fight alongside you for fair, robust and appropriate pension provisions.

    26 Mar 2018, 09:59

  5. Nicola Pratt

    Dear Stuart,

    I broadly support your proposals and am heartened to see that to one degree or another they are part of the latest UUK offer. I am sure you would agree that UUK’s willingness to move has been achieved through the concerted strike action of colleagues here and across the country. Therefore it is very disappointing that Warwick is taking such a hard line position on penalising staff for taking strike action, as outlined by Alastair. I second Alastair’s call for the University to spread out strike deductions over 4 months and for no additional deductions for ASOS, including rescheduling. It is completely unfair that colleagues are penalised twice for the withdrawal of their labour.

    Thank you for your leadership on these matters.

    27 Mar 2018, 15:32

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