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.