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

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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.

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