USS pensions and industrial action
As we reach the conclusion of the third week of industrial action by the University and College Union (UCU), I wanted to write to you all again. Next week, I will have meetings with our University’s Council as well as our UCU Branch President to discuss the current situation.
To open, I will set out a contribution to the potential way forward. National collective bargaining for pensions is a longstanding principle in our sector, which I fully support. It follows that I hope for UUK and UCU to reach a viable solution in their current discussions at ACAS.
If a small increase in our employer contributions to the scheme will allow the necessary time for UUK and UCU to agree the long-term reform which is required to end this damaging dispute, I am happy to add my voice those universities willing to explore this.
While the industrial action continues, my first consideration has been, and will always be, to minimise any disruption to our students, their learning, their degree outcomes and the time they spend at our great institution.
I have listened to the concerns and frustrations of many staff who want the best possible security for their retirement. We need a solution that achieves this for everyone. The USS pension scheme requires sustainable reform if it is to be viable not just for tomorrow, but for the future generations of staff that make our University what it is.
The USS pension is currently one of the most generous and most expensive schemes there is. However, it is also unsustainable in its current form. Argument and counter-argument will doubtless continue about the size of the deficit, but three successive valuations of the scheme over a number of years have shown there is significantly less in the pot than the amount it needs to pay. Our governing body, the Council, has argued this case strongly for over a decade.
Our University has been one of the few who indicated to UUK that we could afford a small increase in employer contributions, but we also said that this would not be the right thing to do, without reform to the scheme. It would mean making substantial savings elsewhere - to our research, our teaching, our facilities.
As Vice-Chancellor, I will continue to do the right thing for our students, our staff and as a member of the wider university sector. The right thing to do will not always be the popular thing to do, but from my arrival at Nottingham six months ago, I have made it my priority to listen to, support and respond to our community of staff and students.
I have started to tackle issues ranging from low pay to the effectiveness of our student support arrangements. There are many more things I want to do: improving equality and diversity; navigating the immense challenges of Brexit; enhancing our research and our teaching; and improving our engagement with staff and students.
I genuinely hope that UUK and UCU can reach an agreement as soon as possible to end this dispute.
Professor Shearer West
Posted on Thursday 8th March 2018