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Important USS Update

Update from Deepa Driver, RUCU Pensions Officer

Dear members,

There have been lots of developments within USS, so we wanted to update you with the latest information.

For all our new members, Reading UCU took strong action last year, as part of wider UCU national action, to save the guaranteed status (Defined Benefit – DB) of the USS Pension. As a result of this successful action we retained our guaranteed DB pension and a Joint Expert Panel (JEP) was set up between the employers (UUK) and the union (UCU) to agree terms that would hopefully stop the need for such drastic action to take place again.

Unfortunately, at the end of the first phase of the JEP, the USS Board refused to implement the JEP recommendations in full. Instead, they came forward with a ‘contingent contributions’ proposal (put simply, contingent contributions are further payments from the employers (and maybe us) that would be triggered if USS deems that the position of the fund has worsened with respect to certain parameters).

USS has also invoked a Scheme rule requiring members to pay additional contributions from 1st April onwards. Here is a short 3-pager explaining why your pensions officer feels USS are unjustified in asking us to pay these increased contributions, and please also find an outline of the ‘story so far’ here. 

As a result of the USS ‘contingent contributions’ proposal, an employers’consultation has recently taken place, within which each institution was asked to feedback its responses to three questions. The University of Reading has now shared their institutional response (with more information on the intranet here)

We note that the University has stated that it ‘broadly supports’ the JEP recommendations. However, it is unfortunate that the University has placed its full weight behind the contingent contributions proposal. As a consequence, we do not believe that the UoR response is as rigorous, as cognisant of staff interests, or as nuanced, as the position of other Universities such as Sheffield and Oxford.

Here is  UUK’s  summary of employers responses

As RUCU Pensions Officer, I will be writing a response to the University of Reading with comments and suggestions, and this will be shared with members in due course.

We are now at a crucial juncture. The JEP is currently running its second phase. First, the JEP are conducting a review of USS governance. Several issues with governance have been brought to their attention. Next, they will move on to other issues with the valuation including test 1 (which was not dealt with adequately in the first round of the JEP).

Meanwhile, the April contributions increases are starting to take effect on members’ pay packets.  Employers are now negotiating their position with USS over the proposed trigger contributions but it is worrying that many employers are insisting that such contributions be cost-shared with members. For more information, please see the RUCU Pensions Officers report

Members may also find the USS analysis at USS Briefs useful, including the latest submission to the JEP regarding governance, written by your RUCU Pensions Officer, Deepa Govindarajan Driver (also the Chair of the National Disputes Committee). Please do not hesitate to get in touch with the branch, myself ( or the NDC ( with your thoughts.

Please also pass this content on to colleagues who are in the USS Pension, but who may not be UCU members and perhaps also encourage them to join us in taking collective action on serious issues including pensions, precarity, equalities and pay.

Thanks all

Deepa Driver, RUCU Pensions Officer



I was disappointed to receive the resolution of no confidence arising from the UCU Extraordinary General meeting on Wednesday. I wish to be clear from the outset, however, that I fully acknowledge the frustrations that it represents.

As I explained to you and those at the meeting, and also in the face-to-face meetings I have been holding with colleagues over recent weeks, my priority is to encourage an open and more engaged dialogue about the issues facing our institution. The UCU is critical to this dialogue and I fully support the important role you play in our University community.

That discussion necessarily involves consideration of past activities. One of our most important lessons from how difficult but necessary changes have been handled in the past is the need for open, transparent and timely communication. My approach is to be open about the challenges we currently face from the outset, even if I do not yet have all the answers. In that spirit, I have answered the questions you posted about the National Institute for Research in Dairying (NIRD) land sale fully in writing and invited you to share that response, and I felt it was important for me to attend the Wednesday meeting to answer questions from your members.

Much more importantly, we need to look to the future and determine how we can work together to build a strong and successful organisation. In this, the University leadership and the UCU are partners. We have the same interest in shaping an institution that is an excellent employer of which colleagues are proud. We want to strengthen our University’s reputation for the valuable long-term contribution locally, nationally and globally of our world-leading research and teaching. I remain entirely open that this will involve change, and that change will have an impact on our colleagues.

Undoubtedly, some past activities and investments, such as our Malaysia campus, have not performed as well as we would have liked. Others have given a positive financial return for the institution, which we have reinvested in necessary improvements to our campus environment, teaching and research infrastructure and student experience – including the redevelopment of a modern library. Despite views to the contrary, the NIRD land sale is one of these and all considerable net proceeds of the sale will over time be reinvested in research in food and agriculture at the University.

As a forthcoming article that I have written for Wonkhe outlines, I agree with you that good governance is critical to our future success. There is already a great deal we have done in this regard. Over the past five years, we have revised our Royal Charter, changed our management structure to provide clearer areas of responsibility, and changed the way our governing Council operates. Our culture around decision-making has also improved, with more willingness to consult on changes, accept challenge, and be more open and transparent. We have established the People Plan Board, with representation from across the University, to oversee some of our most important projects around the experience of our staff, and regularly consult with our Staff Forum.

I disagree with you that these are circumstances unique to Reading. There are clearly and undeniably many challenges that affect the whole sector. To proceed as though issues such as Brexit, demographic changes affecting student recruitment, intense sector competition and increased pension costs do not contribute to our current financial challenges would put the University of Reading at a massive disadvantage, while other institutions respond and adapt to these challenges.

Whatever our views on the desirability of changes to the higher education sector in recent years, we cannot simply pretend they have not happened. Increased competition, changing student demographics and preferences, and major changes in how the sector is regulated are realities that we cannot afford to ignore if we are to have a confident and successful future.

Where I do absolutely agree with you is that the answers to these questions will come from honest and regular discussion and we are committed to including the UCU with that. We are sure that you will approach that discussion in a constructive and positive spirit, and we would welcome the opportunity to speak with you in person to consider how that can be best achieved to the benefit of all our colleagues.

Professor Robert Van De Noort FSA
Acting Vice-Chancellor

Vote of No Confidence

Vote of No Confidence

Motion passed at a quorate Emergency General Meeting, Wednesday 13 February 2019

We, members of the Reading University branch of UCU, declare no confidence in the current University Council, senior management (UEB) and the University’s governance structure.

We reject the senior management’s current attempts to make people take voluntary redundancy by threatening compulsory redundancies  in the near future.

Senior management quotes as reasons for this a fall in student recruitment, pension costs and Brexit uncertainties. Rather, we assert that the true reasons are:

  1. Short-sighted governance – recruitment trends and demographic dips are foreseeable;
  2. Mismanagement – expenditure on PAS leading to  lower NSS scores, investments making losses, unnecessarily excessive spending including vanity-project buildings, the idea that higher NSS scores can be achieved with fewer staff;
  3. Adversarial governance – management referral to increased pension costs when there is an as yet unresolved dispute with unknown outcome, threatening compulsory redundancies while stating that finances are under control;
  4. Opaque governance – no effective involvement of the wider academic community in in decision-making processes; operating as though managed top-down communication could replace democratic representation of the wider staff community in the University’s own governance structures.

    We have no confidence in a University Council that oversaw mismanagement and poor investment and spending decisions in the past, and we have no confidence in a UEB that pursues short-sighted, adversarial and opaque governance and threatens its staff with compulsory redundancies.

    We demand that the senior management rules out compulsory redundancies.

    We demand that the senior management clarifies its financial position through an independent review and makes this publicly available.


Acting VC Response to Reading UCU Open Letter

Please click on the link:

UCU 11 Feb letter – VC 13 Feb 2019-RVdN

RUCU Open Letter in response to the article in The Guardian

Please click on the following link:

Letter to VC 11 Feb 19

THE: ‘Warning signals ignored’ over branch campus losses

Please click to expand

2019 Updates (USS, Malaysia, Pay Ballot)

A new term begins, and we have so much news for you!
First of all, there has been a lot of movement, particularly in the last week, related to USS.  You will remember that the JEP made recommendations to USS which were supported by UUK. However, USS has announced that they are not fully accepting those recommendations: we are, at least, still safely back in having our defined contributions pensions, but where the JEP recommended that no increases of contributions would be necessary, USS has said they do want to increase.  It’s a small amount in comparison with what they had originally said – but it’s more than we (or the employers) are paying at the moment.  There’s a lot of analysis out there to look at, if you would like to see more details: as before, please look at what USS Briefs are saying ( and Mike Otsuka ( – particularly ).  UCU is now asking us all to contact the acting VC to urge him to call for the full implementation of JEP, to respond positively with a view to securing the lowest contributions possible to discussions around contingency, and to support further work by JEP to make proposals for a methodology for future valuations which would potentially have the support of all sides.  Please do email or write to Professor van de Noort: or if you happen to see him in a meeting, take the opportunity to mention this.
Secondly, with the publication of the University’s accounts towards the end of last term, there has been an interest from journalists in the sector, particularly in the light of the announcement by several universities, not just ours, about either voluntary or compulsory redundancies.  Reading had the honour of leaping immediately to the eye, given the comments in the accounts about the huge amount of money being lost in Malaysia.  The Times Higher Education magazine last week published a full page article on Reading and Malaysia which was scathing about the way in which “Universities tend to overestimate enrolments and underestimate the difficulty in navigating the local environment”.  You can read the article at
Next, we’ll be starting a bit of a push soon to get the vote out for the pay and equality ballot.  This opens on 15 January, so you will be finding your voting papers arrive soon.  Please check that your details are correct on the MyUCU web pages, or you are welcome to contact Colette to check this too.  Papers will be sent out to the address given for any formal documentation, and will only be sent to those who are eligible to vote, so if your membership is of a level which doesn’t entitle you to vote, you won’t receive papers. Can you help?  We’ll be looking for people who can simply check with their colleagues that a) anticipated voting papers have arrived and b) that the colleague hasn’t forgotten about them and left them on a desk without voting.  We’ve got a Get The Vote Out meeting scheduled for Thursday 17 January from 1.00 to 2.00 in Chancellors G08 to which we will be inviting reps and previous GTVO volunteers: please come too if you would like to join that group.  As ever, we urge you to vote: we want to know for certain what you think. 
Lastly, a few updates from us on the Committee.  We’re still finding that we’re getting a huge amount of casework which is taking up a good deal of time: if you might be inclined to dip a toe in the water to help with this, we (and all the members) would be unendingly grateful.  We’re also working very hard on our own claim against the university, which is currently involving a lot of analysis of data and fortnightly meetings with senior management.  And we’re working on the background to the University’s announcements about voluntary redundancy, and analysing figures, looking at published statements for clues about direction, and doing our utmost to try to prevent them from even thinking of moving onto compulsory redundancy. There are only ten of us, and we all have heavy work commitments too – so if you think you can spare any time at all to help, please shout!

‘The Unpaid Women’s Lunch’ is front page of The Spark!

The Gender Pay Gap Lunch, 16th October!

The University of Reading has a 19.6% gender pay gap ( ) and on October 16th we hit the date after which women staff are no longer paid compared to men (see for the calculation of this date: The University has not committed to any formal plan or schedule to eliminate this pay gap, but only ‘set institutional targets to address the gender imbalance in senior roles’ by 2020. Thus we are addressing this issue as one of the aspects of our local claim, just submitted to the University.


To mark this day women members joined together and had their lunch on October 16th from 1 pm to 2 pm on the lawn in front of Whiteknights House to make visible to the University how much it relies on unpaid (from October 16th onwards) women’s labour.

Gender Pay Gap Lunch 16th October