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Your pension, your fight

Here we are, at the start of a new year, gingerly feeling our way back to desks and onto campus. When we left our desks in March last year, we could never have predicted it would be for nearly a year and a half. You have been wonderful. You’ve coped with a complete change in your way of working: for people who thrive on teaching, helping students, and working with other researchers, this has been hard: talking to a tiny screen is not the same as addressing a lecture theatre of faces, or working through office spaces to bounce ideas off one another. Thanks to your efforts, life continues towards a normal university year, and despite everything – Brexit, pandemic, economic downturns and spiralling rates of anxiety – we are still standing, still striving for the best, still offering a very attractive proposition to new students from all around the world.

Unfortunately, some things never change and not everyone feels that you should be rewarded. And so it is with the USS pension: despite the massive efforts undertaken by many of you in 2016, and again in 2019, we still can’t count on our pensions being safe. Many of you have paid very close attention to the debates, but for those who haven’t, here’s a quick summary.

We managed to stop UUK and USS from dispensing with our highly enviable DB (defined benefit) pension, which gives us a guaranteed income for life: they wanted to shift to a DC (defined contribution) pension which basically means investing pension money to gain the income, with the risks that that involves. Then, as now, arguments raged about the valuation of the pension scheme. Because the scheme is there to support everyone who is currently in it, for the rest of their life, the payments into the scheme have to be enough to cover projected costs. It is currently valued at £80.6bn, and it has about 460,000 members. In other words, there is an average of £175,000 per member in the fund. It owns incredibly major developments – a recently advertised one was the new ‘green’ motorway services at Rugby ( and it’s a major investor in private equity companies too. But there are regular valuations of the funds, which assess both the potential amounts which will need to be paid out in the future, and the likely overall fund value. The most recent valuation was made on 31 March 2021. All that being said, the actuaries think it’s not doing well. They don’t think there’s enough money in there to pay us all. (Have they seen how much we’re paid? Really?! They think the average current fund of £175,000 each is not enough??) They want to put up the amount that we pay in, and the amount that the universities pay in. We think they’re talking out of their hats: and that they couldn’t have picked a worse date to value the fund – and support their own arguments.

Negotiations have now reached an end, and they ain’t budging. So, with a sigh of disbelief, I’m afraid it’s time to explain to them, clearly, that this is not a situation we’re happy with. At a Special Congress for HE, and subsequently at a Special HE Committee, it was agreed that we would now ballot for strike action. Expect a ballot paper in the middle of October. Before the papers are posted out, check your address details on MyUCU, because let’s face it, there’s no point in a ballot paper sitting in a pigeon hole on campus if you’re still working entirely from home. Check, too, that you’re on the right membership level – if your membership level indicates that you aren’t employed by Reading, you can’t withdraw your labour. And if you’re not paying the right subs, you won’t qualify for the related strike pay in due course.

I’ll send out updates over the next couple of weeks: meanwhile, see how much you will lose on the current USS proposals by going to

RUCU President

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