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UCU News: University staff vote overwhelmingly for industrial action in pensions row

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Staff have overwhelmingly backed plans for industrial action at 69 UK universities in a row over changes to pensions.

In the ballot, 78% of members of the University and College Union (UCU) who voted, voted for strike action and 87% voted for action short of a strike, which could include a marking boycott. The turnout of 45% was the highest in a national higher education ballot since UCU was formed in 2006.

Talks are scheduled on Wednesday between the union and the employers’ representatives. The union said if the employers continued with their proposals then the union would meet on Friday (24 October) to decide what form the disruption would take and when it would start.

The ballot made it clear to members that a vote for action would most likely lead to a marking boycott and a refusal to set exams. The action would stop students being set coursework or receiving formal marks and feedback, as well as halting exams.

The Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) is the pension scheme for staff at the UK’s ‘old’ universities and covers the most selective institutions including the Russell Group of universities. The changes have been prompted by an expected deficit in USS. However, UCU says the methodology used to determine the deficit is too simplistic and doesn’t take account of the scheme’s underlying strengths.

Since 2011, when the last set of detrimental changes to members’ pensions were made, the fund’s investments have grown by £8bn, the number of members has grown by 18% and returns on investment have outperformed both average earnings and inflation.

However, Universities UK want to reduce the coverage of the defined benefit element of the scheme and introduce a riskier defined contribution pension scheme, with those in or aspiring to the highest academic grades suffering most.

Modelling done by First Actuarial has shown that academics would be thousands of pounds worse off if the changes did go through. Last week UUK was under fire for providing misleading information and using dodgy statistics in its pension briefings.

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: ‘UCU members at universities across the UK have made it quite clear today that they reject the radical changes being proposed for their pensions. We will go into talks on Wednesday hopeful that we can resolve the current impasse.

‘However, we will go into that meeting with a serious mandate from members that they need to see real improvements. If the employers do not address our concerns then we will meet on Friday to determine what forms of disruptive action we take and when they would start.’

USS reforms: income gap widens on redbrick v post-92 pensions | News | Times Higher Education

USS reforms: income gap widens on redbrick v post-92 pensions | News | Times Higher Education.

RUCU response to staff portal message about proposed changes to USS

There is a message from the university on the changes to USS on the staff portal of the University of Reading web site: . Here is OUR RESPONSE to the various points made by the university which are in our view not an accurate, but a biased representation of what’s going on.

1. No Formal Proposals. While the final proposed changes to USS have not yet been formally approved, the main features of these changes have been clear for some time.

2. Consultation. There is a legal obligation on the employers to consult the members, but when we were consulted on the previous changes in 2011, the result was a long running industrial dispute and threats of legal action against the five UCU members of the Joint Negotiating Committee. So much for consultation and negotiation.

3. Size of the Deficit. The calculation of the scheme deficit relies on forecasts of future asset returns, interest rates, longevity etc for the next forty or fifty years. Therefore there are a large number of possible estimates of the deficit, and USS itself produces five different deficit figures at each valuation using five different valuation methodologies. Therefore, any deficit figure is just an opinion.

4. Not Cost Reduction. The cost of providing the proposed pensions will be substantially lower than is currently the case because the proposed pensions are substantially inferior to our current pensions, and it is quite possible that the employers will be able to reduce their contribution rate.

5. An Excellent Scheme. First Actuarial have produced some illustrations of the effects of the proposed changes to USS. Someone who joined the USS final salary section at the age of 35 and retires at the age of 69 with a final salary of £70,000 will have a pension that is 45.3% lower than it would be under the existing scheme – a reduction of £18,551 per year. If this person had joined the current Teachers Pension Scheme (which covers the post-92 universities) their pension would have been £12,175 per year higher than their USS pension will be under the proposals.

6. Public Sector Scheme. USS is not a public sector pension scheme.

More information and resources are available on the UCU web site: and

Best wishes,
Reading UCU


Welcome to Reading University UCU’s new web pages. Our previous site was in need of a new host server, so we are taking the opportunity to renew and revitalise our internet presence.  We will be providing information about the union’s activities on campus and will be covering issues that affect your working life at the University. To find out more, contact the Branch Administrator, Anne Ketley,, 0118 378 7245 or pop in to our office at Room 105 JJ Thomson Building, Whiteknights Campus.