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October, 2014:

False assumptions of the USS | Letters | Times Higher Education

False assumptions of the USS | Letters | Times Higher Education.

Save our Statute!

The University is removing your rights as an academic

You will be aware that the University of Reading management wish to remove the current statute and replace the section that provides additional safeguards and employment protection for academic staff with much weaker policies. The additional protection within statute is recognised the world over and seen as necessary to avoid institutional infringement of academic freedom. However, the management at Reading see this extra protection as a bureaucratic burden that stands in the way of their ability to more easily dismiss academic staff. That is a stark truth that is borne out by even the most liberal reading of the management proposals.

What is the model statute?

The model statute or employment statute are internal rules that govern the procedures for dismissals and grievances of academic staff (and academic-related staff in some institutions). They have legal standing and can only be changed by an application to the Privy Council. Most chartered institutions still retain an employment statute based on the model developed by the Education Commissioners in the early 1990s. This model came about as a consequence of the Education Reform Act 1988 that introduced the idea of redundancies for academic staff – prior to that many academic staff enjoyed an element of tenure.

The reason that academic (and sometimes academic-related) staff are covered by the model statute is to recognise the importance of academic and related staff being able to exercise academic freedom without fear of dismissal. Thus the procedures are an attempt to ensure that any dismissals and grievances considered are undertaken in a transparent way with peer involvement and checks against infringements of academic freedom.

What protection does it offer?

The current model statute features:

  • detailed provisions within the statute itself – so it cannot be changed without approval by the Privy Council
  • academic freedom listed as a guiding principle
  • a redundancy committee – including academic staff – to be established by Council if management wish to make any academic (and related) staff redundant. The Committee must report back to Council
  • the need for a Tribunal – including a member of academic staff – to be established in cases of alleged serious breaches of discipline or capability
  • the right to representation, including legal representation at a Tribunal hearing
  • the right to a hearing by a Board – including a jointly agreed medically qualified Chair – for cases of dismissal on medical ground
  • the right to appeal against dismissal or disciplinary sanctions to a person who holds, or has held, judicial office or is a lawyer of at least 10 years’ standing. That person can decide to sit with 2 other persons – 1 being a member of Council not employed by the institution and 1 being a member of academic staff nominated by Senate
  • the right to representation, including legal representation, at appeal
  • the right to have a grievance heard by a panel including a member of academic staff.

Why are employers trying to change it?

Many employers are now seeking to make changes to the current model statute because they see the existing protection as old fashioned, cumbersome and restrictive on their ability to be ‘flexible’. Many see it as interfering with their right to manage and believe that current employment law is sufficient to protect our members and their right to academic freedom. UCU accepts that some changes would be desirable. However, we do not want to see these made at the expense of our members’ current terms and conditions.

In short, most employers want the provisions by which they dismiss academic (and related) staff to be streamlined, less restrictive and brought into line with other groups of staff. They also want to be able to change them without having to go to  the Privy Council and many want procedures to be removed from Council and Senate oversight. Of course, many just want to make it easier to dismiss our members.

The things that are important to protect and why

The need to go to Privy Council to make changes (i.e. to maintain protections in the statute itself), the involvement of academic peers in panels, the oversight by Council of redundancies, the need for a redundancy committee, the right to representation by any person and the right to an external independent appeal, are all measures to protect the academic freedom of academic (and related) staff and are therefore important to fight to retain. It is especially important in the current financial climate that these protections exist to ensure that academic freedom is not compromised when management decisions are taken.

It is usual for more detailed provisions to be found in ordinances, regulations or locally agreed procedures but having the main principles in statute offers additional protection for academic and related staff.

The way ahead

It is possible for management to work in partnership with UCU to amend the current statute but it is important that university management understands UCU’s position and how changes to the statute can threaten academic freedom. However, heavy handed attempts to detrimentally alter the statute can expect to be met with resistance from UCU.

What You Can Do

  • Talk to your UCU branch about what is being proposed by your institution. Contact
  • Talk to your colleagues about any threats to your current terms and conditions and to academic freedom.
  • Assist in any campaign being run by the branch in whatever way you are able. Contact
  • Make sure your employer knows how you feel about the issue.
  • Raise the proposed changes at any appropriate meetings and explain to others why they represent a threat to academic and academically related staff at the institution.
  • Keep yourself informed and WATCH THIS SPACE.

University of Warwick latest to criticise pension plans as university splits deepen

originally posted on:

The University of Warwick is today the latest institution to break rank and criticise the universities’ umbrella group Universities UK over its handling of changes to university staff pensions.

In a response to UUK’s proposals released to University of Warwick staff, the Russell Group institution criticises the lack of options put forward by UUK and says it would have liked to have seen a number of different scenarios.

It questions how attractive the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) will look when put alongside schemes at other universities, which are also undergoing reform. It also complains that staff at the UK’s most elite institutions who aspire to do well will be penalised the most under the changes.

Warwick is one of 69 universities that could face industrial action in a row over changes to USS after members of UCU overwhelmingly backed industrial actionearlier this week.

Warwick says it wants a compromise that leaves a scheme capable of attracting and retaining ‘the talent needed to sustain the university’s development in the future. Modelling done by UCU showed how radical changes to USS would leave members worse off than their contemporaries at other institutions.

UCU’s higher education committee is meeting this afternoon to discuss recent talks between the union and employers over the changes and will decide whether or not to call strike action. If the committee does back industrial action, an announcement on what form that action would take and when it would start will be made on Monday morning.

The University of Warwick is not the first to break rank and criticise UUK. Last week the University of Oxford described a briefing from the Employers Pension Forum (a group set up by UUK) as misleading.

Yesterday a group of statisticians said assumptions used by the employers in a separate briefing contained ‘misinformation and a mistake‘ and were not adequately justified. The employers had previously removed a whole section from a different briefing after it was revealed they had misused statistics.

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: ‘The list of people who are unhappy with the employers’ proposed changes to staff pensions grows by the day. Universities are now starting to break rank and express their concerns over the process, the limited options available and their damaging impact.

‘We are not surprised institutions have these fears as we share them. We would encourage other universities to go public with their concerns and lobby UUK to engage in meaningful negotiations with us about how we can improve the pension scheme and ensure it remains attractive to members and potential members.’

Universities UK wants to end the final salary element of the scheme for all USS members and move them to a career average (career revalued benefits or CRB) scheme. Under this model members would receive CRB benefits only up to a salary threshold of £50,000. After they hit the threshold, employers will pay only 12 per cent of income into a defined contribution scheme, which shifts the risk to scheme members, and would rely on successful investments.

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

originally posted on:

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