December 12, 2018

Committing to change


I was in West Bromwich on Friday night for the football match. Quite appropriate really, as we are announcing our honorary graduands for the January degree ceremonies, one of which is the West Bromwich Albion great, Brendon Batson. A man of enormous footballing talent. More importantly, a man who has fought against racism his whole life with dignity and determination. The first black footballer to play for Arsenal, he went on to be one of the three superstar black footballers for the Albion at a time when Britain was an obviously racist place. He tells his own tale of being attacked, verbally and physically, because of his skin colour. As a child as well as a man. He tells of bananas being thrown onto the football pitch at black players to symbolise the rejection of their humanity. How things have changed. Half the Aston Villa team on Friday night was non-white. When my club won the European Cup over thirty five years ago, none of the players were black. Brendon has been at the forefront of that change, leading the ‘Kick it Out’ campaign.

Then again, that things have changed does not mean that they have all changed for the better. Bananas are rarely thrown at footballers now. But racist abuse has been written on bananas at this university in recent times. Our own students tell how other of our own students have made ‘monkey noises’ at them. And since the European referendum, a minority have used Brexit to again bring back racist language and in some cases, even attacks. Racist language has become more audible. We are undoubtedly going to be obliged to host a racist speaker on our campus, invited by members of the university, at some point in the future, because of our absolute legal responsibility to allow freedom of speech. Racist words weigh more heavily on their targets than on others.

This reality is important when we consider issues such as the BBC report on Friday that white academic staff at this university are paid more than non-white. We do have real issues to address, that I will discuss in a moment. But this report stems from a simple, and profoundly incorrect and damaging analysis. From freedom of information requests, the BBC created some calculations. They should simply have asked the question. The issue is around pay gaps. This is different to equal pay, where two people must be paid on the same scale for the same work. Pay gaps focuses on categories of people. This year the government introduced a gender pay gap reporting requirement. Warwick has one of the highest. This reflects some deeper truths. If you divide the 6600 staff at the university into quarter according to pay, two thirds of lowest paid colleagues are women (partly this is also a reflection that we do not outsource important work such as cleaning). If we look across our top level, grade 9, professorial equivalent, only one in five is a woman.

Using the same methodology, we can see that there is a gap of 15.5% for academic staff pay, and a gap 6.9% if looking at all of our staff. Again, it is important to remember that this is not an equal pay measure; rather a measure of who is where in the organisation concerned. For us, there are two deeper truths. First we have too few non-white colleagues at professorial equivalent level; currently around one in ten. Second, on the academic side, we have significant numbers of non-white staff paid at lower levels. But this is in fact good news. If we agree that we want to have a more representative professoriate, we need an active ‘pipeline’ of staff. Currently, 28 per cent of our early career researchers is non-white. Working with those colleagues, supporting and encouraging, what an extraordinary difference those colleagues will make to the look and feel of this university over the next ten years.

Brendon Batson has shown how to combat racism by his own career and actions; and so it is a great moment to be able to honour him. And to take that inspiration both to combat racism and the structural inequalities of our world.

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November 22, 2018

Making an impact

The last fortnight has seen two particularly notable occasions where we have come together with our local partners to talk about how our work together makes, or will make, a significant economic impact on Coventry, Warwickshire and the West Midlands.

The first occasion was on Monday 12th November 2018 when it was announced at the Coventry and Warwickshire Automotive Dinner in Warwickshire’s Coombe Abbey Hotel that we would be working with Jaguar Land Rover to establish a new multi-million-pound ‘Smart City Mobility Centre’. The new Centre will create ground breaking driverless and electric vehicle technology on our Wellesbourne campus. Our agreement with JLR will see 5G technology deployed on campus alongside prototype autonomous vehicles, with a plan to begin in 2019. When successful, this will allow us to move fully to autonomous vehicles on campus, and away from such reliance on petrol driven, single occupancy cars.

Then just over a week later Dr Ralf Speth CEO of Jaguar Land Rover and an Honorary Professor of WMG, joined with Andy Street CBE Mayor of the West Midlands, Abdul Khan Deputy Leader of Coventry City Council, Chancellor Baroness Cathy Ashton and myself for our Chancellor’s Dinner, to hear the very latest regional economic impact figures for the University.

The location of the dinner, the home of National Automotive Innovation Centre, was certainly impressive, displaying a very explicit and solid example of our campus economic impact in our region.

While sitting in that striking building, we were presented with some very impressive numbers from the latest analysis of the University’s economic impact on our city, county and region which have been covered by the Coventry Telegraph:

  • Warwick’s overall economic impact in the West Midlands is now almost £1 billion a year
  • As well as employing over 6,640 staff our university sustains a further 9,245 additional jobs in the West Midlands. 86% of The University of Warwick’s staff live in the West Midlands with 42% in Coventry and 21% in Warwick District
  • Warwick’s 5,000 international students contribute £250 million per annum to the region
  • Warwick Science Park supported 354 businesses, and Warwick Business School and WMG supported hundreds more
  • 29% of Warwick’s UK undergraduate intake are from the West Midlands
  • 84% of Warwick’s Newly Qualified Teachers secured employment teaching in Midlands schools

An impressive building, and some impressive numbers. However what made the biggest impression on me was the testimony of one young engineer. Omeah Hancox told us about her experience as a pupil at the WMG Academy for Young Engineers in Coventry, and how that opportunity has now led to her joining Jaguar Land Rover as a young engineer. To see the impact of our partnerships personified in this way was a memorable moment. You can watch the video that was shown on the evening here.

That moment reminds me and should remind us all that the positive impact we have on our region shouldn’t just be measured in pounds, shillings and pence. People make a difference and often these people are our own students and graduates and not just because of what they studying or researching. For instance, more than 1000 Warwick students volunteer and last year they devoted 12,618 volunteer hours in community focused projects in Coventry, Leamington, Kenilworth and Warwick.

Warwick was first established as a University because a great many community leaders, policy makers and businesses in Coventry and Warwickshire came together to campaign for its establishment and donate the funding and land to establish it. They believed that Warwick would be a major contributor to the economy, culture and life of the City and the County. They were proved right, and it is the impressive work and dedication of a great many individual Warwick students and staff that delivers that proof each and every day.

There was one more important highlight to the evening. On behalf of Coventry City Council, Abdul Khan announced that the Council has asked the University to rename part of University Road, Lord Bhattacharyya Way. I was then able to share that Lord Bhattacharyya Way would lead to the Lord Bhattacharyya Building. The Lord Bhattacharyya building, home of The National Automotive Innovation Centre (NAIC), a £150 million partnership between WMG at the University of Warwick, Jaguar Land Rover and Tata Motors European Technical Centre (with £15m from what was the UK Government’s Higher Education Funding Council England). The National Automotive Innovation Centre will be a beacon for automotive research bringing together the brightest minds from industry and academia, to develop future automotive technology. This announcement and the Chancellor’s Dinner was not the formal opening of the Lord Bhattacharyya Building or NAIC, that is to come, but the evening was an opportunity to recognise the enormous contribution of Professor Lord Kumar Bhattacharyya to the University, the City, the region, and to the automotive industry, particularly Jaguar Land Rover and Tata Motors.

It's the individuals who make up every institution who truly make an impact. That evening marked the spectacular impact of Professor Lord Kumar Bhattacharyya, but it also marked just the very beginning of all that will be achieved by Warwick’s current students, and the pupils of WMG Academy for Young Engineers in Coventry such as Omeah.


best wishes

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October 15, 2018

It's all about the experience…


Although we’re just finishing welcoming new students, and welcoming back our existing ones, the recruitment cycle for next year is already in progress. I’m looking forward to the forthcoming open day, although my role there is a small one – I give part of the welcome address to prospective students and their parents. These are important events; the numbers attending open days are going up, and we know that the open day experience makes a real difference to student choices.

Although students (and their families) are concerned about the outcomes of university education (and there are lots of ways in which we can measure these), they also know that the experience matters and indeed the quality of the experience will make a difference to the quality of the outcomes. And because experience matters, open days matter because they give insight into what it’s like to be a student at Warwick.

Of course, if we want to demonstrate the Warwick experience to prospective students, we have first, to persuade them to come to our open days. And that’s where marketing and recruitment activities come in. For this current recruitment round there has been a major redevelopment of our prospectus and other associated marketing materials with a focus on how best to talk about both student experiences and outcomes. We know that some of the hard metrics such as league tables, and graduate salaries will be part of student decision making and this information is widely available. So in our communications, we’ve focused much more on the experience side, using a story-telling approach.

Given that my own academic background is in marketing, I’m always interested to see how our marketing and communications activity develops. And for some time in marketing (particularly in the service sector) the focus of marketing has shifted from promoting the attributes of a product or service to concentrating instead on experiences. So it makes perfect sense that we should be working in a similar way.

If you look at the prospectus or at the website, you’ll see marketing communications that tell stories – stories about what it’s like to be a student and what our students will take away from their Warwick experience. These stories may be partly founded on our reputation, but they’re also about our people, our thinking and the place in which we’re based. We try to emphasise the positive outcomes that students are looking for - that their study at Warwick will enhance their wellbeing and their future, that it will offer better career opportunities, and that it will open up a wealth of possibilities.

It is an approach that looks to be making a difference; we’ve seen record attendances at our most recent open days, and despite the declining number of 18 year-olds, our UG applications have remained strong. Of course, this encouraging picture is the result of a number of factors. For example, the Student Recruitment, Outreach and Admissions Service (SROAS) has been hugely effective in advancing its student recruitment approach and in managing the open day experience.

Also notable is the increased collaboration between SROAS and our marketing teams. This has meant promotional materials used by our recruitment leads are both practical and persuasive…and storytelling is vital to making our marketing collateral compelling.

No one can know, in advance, what their experience will be like. But the combination of storytelling and open day activities gives prospective students a real insight in to what their University experience at Warwick might mean. That’s why open days are so important and that’s why we’re grateful to everyone who has helped to make them such a success.


Cheers

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Christine Ennew, Provost


October 08, 2018

What we need to learn about the campus experience of all our disabled staff, students and visitors

Earlier this year, Warwick signed up to be a member of the Business Disability Forum (BDF). BDF provides members with practical support by sharing expertise and providing training and networking opportunities which help our work with disabled staff, students and visitors. We’ve also established a Disability Standards Steering Group (which I chair) and this brings together key stakeholders from across campus to determine how we might best work towards meeting BDF’s Disability Standards.

One challenge that we face is that it is often difficult for someone who is not disabled to understand how what we see as commonplace can create challenges for others. So, earlier this year one of our Steering Group members, Jenny Wheeler, worked with the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion team to run the ‘Wheelchair Challenge’, which required participants to navigate around campus in a wheelchair (and then feed back on their experience). I couldn’t participate at the time so Jenny agreed to run the challenge again in August for myself and Jane Openshaw from Estates, to help us to understand what it’s like to be a wheelchair user on campus.

We started off with one electric scooter and one manual wheelchair, with Jenny as our trusty guide and supervisor.

Trainee guide dog











Our friendly trainee guide dog comes to see us off on the challenge.

It will probably sound clichéd, but this was a real eye-opener for me. I was lucky and started the challenge with the electric scooter, leaving Jane to get herself up the slope from Rootes in the manual wheelchair. I then transferred to the manual chair for a brief comfort break at the Oculus before heading to the Sports Centre, from where we tried to find our way into the Chemistry Building. Then it was back to the library before negotiating our way back to Rootes.

accessing toilets











Hmm – going to the loo isn’t going to be as easy as I thought.

Getting into a disabled toilet is far more difficult than it looks and the camber on pathways can make steering and controlling a wheelchair an interesting experience. And even the slightest lip on a drop kerb can make a manual wheelchair user feel quite vulnerable. The biggest positives for me were people who were sensitive to the need to give you space and who were willing to offer a helping hand. The contractors working in campus at the time were great with regular offers of a helping hand (although Jenny did enjoy telling them that we had to do it ourselves!).

LIbrary footpath













Not sure I’m actually going to make it through here.

The routes between buildings weren’t always obvious to a novice, but mostly we managed to work it out (although it often required quite a bit of creative problem solving on our part). Having said that, I’m not sure I actually managed to work out how to deal with my own need for a regular coffee fix. A steaming hot Americano and a manual wheelchair are not a good combination and Jenny’s top tip – never, ever try to hold your coffee cup between your thighs – was probably one of the best bits of advice of the day!

Chemistry














So this is how you get into Chemistry!

As I walked back to University House, I had time to reflect on the impact of both the physical environment and human behaviour on the ability of many disabled people to navigate campus. My immediate learning points related to the challenges associated with some design features in the physical environment and how other campus users might help (or not) someone with mobility issues. The experiences and challenges for those who may, for example, be blind or deaf will be very different but also probably not well understood by many of us. We still have much to learn about how we can improve the campus experience for all our disabled staff, students and visitors.

Cheers

Christine Ennew Provost sig





Christine Ennew

Provost


September 24, 2018

Exceptional

This month, Warwick’s new strategy was launched with its vision that “By 2030, Warwick will be one of the world's exceptional universities, helping to transform our region, country and world for the collective good.” However, every single day since we published those words I keep seeing Warwick staff and students already doing exceptional things that we should celebrate and acknowledge now rather than waiting until 2030.

Europe – Our politicians of every ideological colour seem locked in endless acrimony over our future relationship with the rest of Europe. Warwick’s staff and students have simply ignored the political wrangles and made renewed commitments to work across Europe in our research and teaching. We have formed an exceptional new partnership with colleagues in Paris and Brussels, and this summer we saw a huge increase (14%) in applications from non UK EU students.

Global student community – This week Warwick students will be not just participating in but will also be central to the organisation of this year’s International Conference of Undergraduate Research (ICUR) 2018. This is an exceptional event, not just because of the quality of the undergraduate research it showcases, but even more because it is a conference that never sleeps. For two full days Warwick students will use video-linked sessions in partnership with students across eight countries and 5 continents to produce a continuous two day conference that never stops.

Admissions – The increase in demand for places at Warwick this year was not just confined to non UK EU students. For years we have been told that 2018 would see a demographic dip with fewer UK 18 year olds than previous years which would make university recruitment challenging for the whole sector. In fact, even more undergraduate students have chosen to come to Warwick and our applications have actually increased by 5% this year. That exceptional cohort of new students was supported by an exceptional response from Warwick’s accommodation team who have worked long hours and used every resource to ensure that each and every one of those undergraduate students will be accommodated on our campus as we promised.

A week to celebrate - This is a week to celebrate, not because once again the Times and Sunday Times has just ranked Warwick as one of the UK’s top 10 universities, and eighth for the quality of the research. I am celebrating the start of a new academic year as our campus comes even more alive with a vast array of students and staff. It is that vibrant community rather than any particular league table success that attracts even more students to study here, and even more international partners to work with us. Warwick is an exceptional university because of its exceptional staff and students, a fact which gives me confidence that this is just the start of a year of great achievements and success for our University.

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September 04, 2018

Working against racism – Committing to change at Warwick


The following is a joint blog written by Stuart Croft and Larissa Kennedy, SU Education Officer

In the work on Warwick’s new strategy, we have committed ourselves to being an exceptional university. Of course, that means exceptional in our research and in our education, as that is the core of any Higher Education institution. But that alone is not enough. We must be exceptional in a number of areas - and one of the most important has to be how we work and live together.

Over the past few years, universities in the United Kingdom have seen a number of racist incidents. Unfortunately, Warwick has not been an exception. However, while we must show zero tolerance to racism, we must also understand more subtle measures of exclusion - often unconscious in nature - and talk openly about how to address them so that we become an institution where intercultural experiences are discussed, talked about, shared, and celebrated.

The starting point though, has to be confronting racism. We initially addressed this in the light of a very distressing incident a while back, and now want to share our work in this area so far.

We have begun a debate at Warwick to try to understand much, much more about the barriers that prevent inclusivity, and what steps each and every one of us can take to address these. Last year, we brought together a group of staff and students to explore what instances of racism BAME members of our community were experiencing. This exploration shows us that it is not solely overt racist slurs that are the issue – though, clearly, such comments must be called out and dealt with effectively.

However, we also see systemic, institutionalised and covert issues – from an example of the study options open to students (which can often be based on a historic, white narrative) and the challenges some staff and students face in challenging the established curriculum, to basic manners of learning individuals’ names and preferred forms of address. The effect can be to leave individuals feeling isolated, not supported, disillusioned and without a clear pathway to get a resolution. To compound this, we have staff who do not feel confident in identifying where colleagues and students need help, as well as individuals feeling worn down by a pattern of actions, comments and language that are invisible to others.

We are now seeing excellent examples of positive initiatives across the University – for example, intercultural training for students developed by the Centre for Applied Linguistics (CAL) and International Student Office is now being rolled out to train staff, while the ‘Colonial hangover’ widening participation programme run through the department of Politics and International Studies (PAIS) is working with a number of schools to decolonise the curricula. These initiatives should be celebrated and embraced for their thoughtfulness and empathy.

We proactively support student communities in getting their voice heard on such matters. The recent Warwick Speak Out campaign - a joint venture between the SU and Warwick Anti-Racism Society - created an online reporting tool for racist incidents, so that we now have a better understanding of the issues facing our students. The Hidden Histories Alternative Lecture Series also gives a platform to academic narratives and discourses which are often neglected or even deliberately erased from mainstream curricula. For those interested in being involved with this type of work, elections for the SU’s Liberation & Diversity Exec are coming up in October.

Though there is still much to be done, these examples show the value of the debate: using open and honest dialogue across the University to share experiences, discuss issues and find better ways of engaging with each other – all the while providing the world-class educational experience we aspire to. To that end, we want to share with you a poem from Faith Denya, a student involved in the Colonial Hangover project:

Teach me your heroes

Your heroes, that ordered the enslavement of my heroes,
Your heroes that massacred the mothers and fathers of my heroes,
Your heroes that fought and tortured and created a system to dehumanize, ostracize and spread lies.
You want to teach me your history?
The one that wiped out my history? Brainwashed and made me forget my ancestry - all in the name of colony.
The history that asks no questions and never mentions the pain, blood and tears of those you captured to create your history.
Instead of slaves in chains, we became slaves to ignorance and I refuse to let that be my history.

Faith Denya

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Stuart and Larissa Kennedy


March 29, 2018

Measuring the gap – update

The full report on gender pay gap at Warwick can be read here.

The first blog that I wrote on joining Warwick was about the gender pay gap and as we prepare to make our first statutory gender pay report as required under the provision of the 2010 Equality Act, it seemed a good time to return to this issue. And of course, having been here for 18 months, I’ve now got a much clearer idea of how our processes work and what’s being done to address this and other related issues.

Gender Pay
The new reporting requirements on gender pay mean that we provide high level information on pay levels and distribution for female and male staff – and across the UK, employers have started providing this information with the deadline for submission towards the end of March. And of course the broader issue of gender pay differentials has attracted considerable interest in recent months. We’re probably all familiar with the furore over gender inequalities in pay at the BBC while data from other companies has highlighted some equally dramatic differences in pay between men and women. Organisations as diverse as the Bank of England, Shell, Ladbrokes Coral and the Department of Health are reporting differences in average hourly pay that are comfortably into double digits while some airlines have reported one of the differentials as high as over 50% largely because of the relatively high salaries earned by pilots who are dominantly male.

The airlines example highlights one of the challenges associated with a reliance on headline figures across the workforce. The factors behind gender pay gaps are hugely complex which makes it hard to look at this issue from a generalist perspective. The University’s own figures point to a significant gap in average hourly pay between men and women overall.

Equal Pay
In trying to understand the source of differentials, a quick look at pay differences by grade shows that at levels 1 to 8, there is virtually no difference. As can be seen below, only at level 9 is there evidence that men are paid significantly more than women.

Gender pay













Grade 9 covers Professors and very senior professional staff. The differential here is marked but has fallen in recent years, in part because of a rigorous programme of equality adjustment each year as part of the review of senior salaries.

The problem that faces the University of Warwick – and indeed many other organisations – is not so much a failure to pay equally to staff at the same level, but rather a skew in the gender distribution across levels, with more women in lower paid occupations and more men in higher paid occupations. And until this changes, we can continue to pay equally for staff at the same level, but a gender pay gap will persist.

So, for us and for many other organisations, the imperative has to be around raising aspirations and creating opportunities for women to advance their careers. But there are few quick fixes. Some organisations outsource many of the activities that are dominantly female and lower paid. Their figures may look better but it doesn’t solve the problem. At Warwick, we prefer not to outsource. Some advocate quotas and positive discrimination – a more controversial approach and one that most organisations in the UK have steered clear of. Instead, our focus of attention continues to be on training and development, on the identification of structural barriers to progression and on tackling the widespread, implicit biases that inhibit the career development of women across all grades. It won’t produce quick change, but it will produce sustained change.

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Christine Ennew, Provost


The full report on gender pay gap at Warwick can be read here.


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.

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February 26, 2018

USS – Four vital moves

The following article has been published on Times Higher Education blog on Monday 26 February
https://www.timeshighereducation.com/blog/uss-strike-time-nationalise-university-pensions

Tuesday will be the fourth day of strike action in half of the country’s universities over pensions.

And Tuesday will be the day when the two sides – Universities UK for the employers, and the University and College Union – meet to discuss options. There will be no resolution then. If there is a breakthrough, that will have to be formally discussed in the pensions machinery through the Joint Negotiating Committee. But there are four vital moves that can be made that could take us all further forward towards the resolution to this strike and the achievement of the two goals that everyone shares: the maintenance of a fair and sustainable pensions scheme and the full delivery of education and assessment for all of our students.

First, we need new ideas that allow the Defined Benefit (DB) scheme to continue in practice as well as in theory. The two sides have met many times over the past 18 months, culminating in a split vote in the JNC on the one standing proposal left – which is the one that the strike is about. The onus is therefore very much on UCU to bring forward a series of new proposals: on the valuation process and assumptions, on the level of DB that can be afforded, and on what this might mean for strike action. I believe UCU have ideas, and now is the time to share them as proposals.

Second, UUK’s position is that the time is almost up; that there is a statutory process for the timeline running out this June. If there is the possibility of progress with a new proposal, we would need to see both sides engage with the Pensions Regulator about the timelines.

Third, I would like to see both sides commit to discussions about the future of the pensions scheme beyond this dispute particularly around risk sharing. For the longer term, the joint UUK – UCU agenda could include learning from the Royal Mail pensions process, which promises a novel approach with a collective defined contribution scheme, something that could be valuable to for that element of USS that is currently in DC mode; separately, it could also include employers committing to longer term guaranteed levels of contribution.

And fourth, I would like to see both sides approach the government about the possibility that USS becomes government backed. One reason for the current situation is that there is more risk around the future of universities since the government introduced the Higher Education Act (still less than twelve months ago) with its focus on ‘market exit’ – universities becoming bankrupt. The Higher Education Funding Council’s mission was to avoid such a possibility. The new Office for Students has no such responsibility. Risk is higher, as USS is a ‘last man standing’ scheme. If USS becomes government backed, such concerns are significantly mitigated. Half the country's universities are not striking; their staff are not in USS, but the Teachers Pensions Scheme, which is government backed. Sir Vince Cable lent his voice to the proposition on Saturday. And for the government, facing the costs of Brexit, some £60 billion would move into their assets, were this to be pursued.

This is a big week in this dispute; all want resolution; and the above is an agenda to take us all forward.


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February 16, 2018

An update on USS and strike action

We are now only days away from a period of industrial unrest which I strongly believe could have been avoided and, with goodwill on all sides, could still be avoided. I have been very public with my criticism of the pension valuation and the subsequent decision by UUK to advocate what is in effect closure of the defined benefit element of the USS scheme. I do not believe that either party to the USS negotiation have exploited the full range of options which could have generated a meaningful pension for University staff without jeopardising the financial future of the sector. I am therefore calling for an early return to negotiations, with a more open and imaginative approach from both parties. A return to active negotiations with a real willingness by all sides to explore every option would of course enable deferral of industrial action until those avenues have been fully explored.

In short, I question the need for the change in the valuation assumptions last autumn which gave rise to the scale of this challenge. Second, I would ask that consideration is given to options which would protect the less well paid in the sector and future entrants, perhaps by restricting DB to those in the national pay framework and placing the higher paid into a DC only scheme. Thirdly, I believe it that instead of focusing on removing everyone’s choice on DB USS should look to give individuals the choice to opt out of DB where their circumstances make this less attractive e.g. some overseas staff. Finally, I would suggest it is time for government to take as close an interest in pension provision as it does in other aspects of reward in this sector. This could be through legislation which enables risk sharing DC schemes or by underwriting pensions for everyone currently in USS in a way that is more reflective of government support for unfunded public sector schemes such as TPS.

I recognise that there is a deadline being demanded by regulators. But it is vital that we find a way of resolving an issue which will be costly, both financially and in terms of reputation, for Universities, the sector and - most importantly - its students and staff.

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December 2018

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