University staff to vote whether to resolve pensions dispute

By Clara Gaspar

Members of the University and College Union (UCU) across the country will vote next week on proposals designed to resolve the pensions dispute.

This follows a meeting held today in London with representatives from UCU branches at the universities involved in industrial action and the Union’s Higher Education Committee (HEC).

UCU General Secretary Sally Hunt said: “These latest proposals were won by the solid action of UCU members and now is the time for them to have their say on what happens next.”

Although the HEC voted to keep the proposals as they stand, to members in a ballot, the Durham UCU branch expressed their dissatisfaction that the proposals had not been revised before being put to members. UCU at Durham tweeted:

“UCU HE committee has voted to ballot members on the UUK proposal without amendments. This is not the stance the Durham branch wanted. We wanted revisions before balloting”.


About the proposals

The new proposals were agreed on 23rd March in talks between Universities UK and the UCU, which represents the 64 institutions where the strikes have been taking place.

Universities UK proposed the formation of a Joint Expert Panel, the purpose of which would be to discuss and review of the basis of the USS valuation together with the University and College Union. The USS is one of the UK’s largest pension schemes, which faces a £6.1bn deficit.

The proposal provided further details about the independent panel, stating that it will include equal numbers, appointed by both sides, of actuarial and academic experts as well as a chair that has been jointly-agreed by UUK and the UCU.

At the meeting today, it was clarified that the defined benefit element of the scheme would be maintained while a joint-expert panel considers the valuation of the Universities Superannuation Scheme’s (USS) fund.

The new proposals were developed after the previous of UUK proposals announced on March 12 were rejected the following day by branch representatives.


What next?

Staff at 65 UK universities have already held 14 days of strikes over the dispute and if UCU members do not vote in favour of the new proposals next week, examination periods at these institutions could face disruption.

Due to rules under the Trade Union Act, unions have to give notice of any planned strike action.

Thus industrial action at 13 universities is set to continue as planned on 16th April, as part of another stage of strike action aimed to disrupt the last weeks of teaching, and the exam and assessment period.

Twelve universities will face a full week’s strike from Monday 16th to Friday 20th April, while Bangor University face three days of industrial action beginning on Monday 16th. The affected universities are:

  • Brunel University
  • University of Cardiff
  • Cranfield University
  • University of Dundee
  • University of Leeds
  • Loughborough University
  • University of Manchester
  • University of Oxford
  • Ruskin College
  • University of Salford
  • University of Southampton
  • University of St Andrews

The UCU wrote in a press release today that should disputes not be resolved, “All universities would be hit with another 14 days of strikes covering either teaching and exams or just the exam period.”

However, the number of strike days which could occur during the exam and assessment period will depend on any earlier action in April aimed at teaching.

Photograph: Durham Student-Staff Solidarity

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