Update on joint UCU - Universities UK proposal – 5.30 p.m. Friday 23 March
UCU and Universities UK are proposing jointly to establish a panel of experts to agree key principles to underpin the future joint approach of UUK and UCU to the valuation of the USS fund. The Joint Expert Panel will review the basis of the scheme valuation, assumptions and associated tests.
Pausing benefit reform discussions to get an expert opinion of the valuation is a positive development to build trust and confidence.
The proposal to convene a jointly established panel to examine the current valuation, proposed on Friday 23 March under the auspices of Acas, is subject to consultation with union members and USS employers. Support for this process will need to be sought from the USS Trustee and the Pensions Regulator, recognising their statutory responsibilities.
As part of the Acas proposal, UCU will consult its branches and members on ending industrial action.
This would be very good news for our students, preventing further disruption to their studies.
The Joint Expert Panel will consist of actuarial and academic experts, with a jointly agreed independent chair. Subject to support from UCU members and employers there are a number of practical questions over the composition and work of the Panel, which need to be agreed by UCU and Universities UK, before the terms of reference for the panel can be published.
Earlier today the Vice-Chancellor Professor Louise Richardson wrote to all colleagues as follows:
This has been a very difficult few weeks for all of us at Oxford. Colleagues across the University are, understandably, deeply concerned about the erosion of the value of their pensions. Senior colleagues are concerned especially about early career academics; younger colleagues are concerned about their future financial security. We are all concerned about our ability to attract talented young people into the profession. Students have been gravely worried about disruption to teaching and exams. Meanwhile, the collegiality of our community has been undermined.
It has long been my belief that any university is only as good as the staff and the students it can attract. We know that our global standing is based on our success in doing so.
I wish I were writing to say, therefore, that the issue had been resolved but, sadly, as we head into the Easter break, it is becoming increasingly likely that it will drag into Trinity term.
We face a shared problem: a pension scheme to which both employers and employees contribute which has been assessed as having a substantial deficit. We have a shared interest in finding a solution that offers the best possible affordable pension now and into the future.
Like other employers and employees we have signed on to collective bargaining and are bound by it. I know that this is frustrating for many of us who would like to find our own solution right away, but we can’t. I can personally commit, however, to accepting any solution agreed at the Joint Negotiating Committee by UCU and UUK.
Much of the disagreement arises over the validity of the estimate of the deficit (£6.1 billion). I know we would all be delighted to learn that the current estimate exaggerates the deficit. I very much hope that the proposals for an independent panel of experts, with membership agreed by UCU and UUK and working transparently, will be accepted, will start work immediately, and will command confidence in their conclusions.
Congregation will be convening on April 24 to discuss the issue and to solicit proposals that can be fed into our Pensions Working Party for analysis. I hope that this can be a moment when the University can come together in recognition of the concerns of many of our staff and in collective pursuit of a solution to the shared problem we face.