JEP report released 13 Dec 2019

UCU response to USS Joint Expert Panel’s second report

13 December 2019

UCU has welcomed the second report from the Joint Expert Panel (JEP) looking at the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS). The JEP was set up by UCU and Universities UK following the industrial dispute over proposed changes to the USS pension scheme.

Commenting on the report, UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: ‘UCU welcomes the second report from the JEP and we would like to thank the panel members for all their work and also thank those who submitted evidence.

‘This second report looks at key issues around the governance of the scheme and makes some strong recommendations that, if implemented, should give scheme members greater confidence about how the scheme is run. We are particularly pleased that the report highlights the importance of mutuality.

‘This report sets out a path which may provide an opportunity for lower contributions than USS has scheduled. We need all parties to now engage with the report in order to secure members’ pension benefits in an affordable way and to ensure the scheme’s long-term sustainability.

‘We also welcome the JEP’s call for facilitated meetings between stakeholders, the Trustee and, where appropriate, The Pension Regulator, as a way to find agreement between all parties. While implementation of the JEP recommendations won’t solve all the issues at stake in the dispute, this report provides a strong starting point for further discussions.’

The press statement from the Joint Expert Panel is available here and the full report is available here.

ASOS now, initial strike period over (5 Dec 2019)

After 8 days of strikes, UCU members at many HE institiutions are now beginning action short of a strike (ASOS).

And what an 8 days….see our  regional Twitter feed @UCUEHCRegion         for all the photos. We sang, we danced, we shivered, we explained to staff and students what it was we were asking for (…and we were particularly impressed with Billy Bragg!)

Across the UK, UCU members at 60 universities walked out in action over pensions and pay & conditions.

Ahead of the strikes, UCU general secretary Jo Grady told the Sunday Telegraph that staff wouldn’t be lectured about pay, pensions or working conditions from “out of touch” vice-chancellors who had enjoyed huge salary hikes, lived in free accommodation, maxed out expense accounts, yet still saw fit to claim back £2 for biscuits on expenses.

The strikes led the news as members headed to picket lines in the dark on that first Monday morning. Jo Grady, UCU GS, told BBC Radio 5Live that the action was going to be “huge” and universities needed to come up with a long-term plan to deal with the issues at the heart of the disputes. Speaking to the Today Programme, she said that universities needed to step up and work with UCU to resolve disputes.

By mid-morning on Monday, the Guardian, Times and Times Higher had all reported the solid support on picket lines across the UK. UCU vice-president Vicky Blake was on the BBC live from Leeds and Jo Grady was speaking to Sky News from a very soggy picket line in Sussex.

As news of the solid support for the strikes filtered through, so did the strong-arm tactics being employed by some universities. The Guardian reported on efforts by the University of Liverpool to scare students away from picket lines and efforts by Sheffield Hallam University to turn students into snitches.

Both the BBC and the Telegraph picked up on the Hallam snitchers story and how the university’s efforts had backfired leading to ridicule on social media. Jo Grady said the students’ response had ensured that the university’s strong-arm tactics had backfired massively.

Silly attempts to threaten, intimidate or confuse staff and students continued throughout the week. The University of Birmingham told people that protests on campus amounted to trespass, which the Telegraph said provoked outrage.

The Guardian reported that international students supportive of strike action were worried about failing to comply with attendance requirements with potential consequences for their visas. The University of Liverpool was once again singled out for criticism as on top of warning students off picket lines, the university said international students who chose not to cross picket lines to attend teaching sessions risked jeopardising their visa. The paper said that as a result nine external examiners in the school of law resigned their roles in protest, accusing Liverpool of misrepresenting the law regarding support for official pickets and of “weaponising” the UK immigration system against visa-holding students.

Away from universities’ efforts to deflect attention away from the issues at the heart of the disputes, the BBC reported staff saying they had reached breaking point over workloads, pay cuts, gender pay gaps and changes to pensions for staff in the Universities Superannuation Scheme.

Reporting from the picket lines, iNews said the complaint on most strikers’ lips was the proliferation of insecure, short-term contracts. Times Higher Education had been to Goldsmiths where staff said they were fighting for the future of higher education. While Billy Bragg and Ai Weiwei gave their backing to striking staff in Cambridge.

Hugely welcome support came pouring in from students on campuses throughout the UK. Many were interviewed expressing their support for their staff. Writing in the Guardian one student said fellow students should join their striking staff.

Jo Grady warned employers that they underestimate the scale of anger at their peril. Writing in the Guardian, Sarah Darley, a striking research associate at the University of Manchester, said the strike action, and possible future strike action, was necessary in the fight for fair and secure working conditions for all staff.

A Guardian editorial said the marketisation of universities had seen a new breed of vice-chancellors emerge aping the language and salaries of a business CEO complete with an entourage of financial managers and marketing gurus. However staff had been left behind as their pay fell and an intellectual precariat was stumbling from year to year on temporary contracts wondering where the next teaching gig was coming from. While the Financial Times said that the industrial action carried wider significance than the fate of a disputed retirement plan, and had exposed the precariousness of Britain’s higher education system as it has become more of a marketplace.

Looking beyond the eight-day walkout, Times Higher Education reported that more universities will be balloted for strike action in polls that close at the end of January. It also considered tiered contributions where some members of USS could ‘contribute less and get less benefit’. However, a UCU spokesman said: ‘Any proposals about tiered contributions would need to be based on the recognition that USS can be funded with a much lower overall contribution rate than it is currently, as the first JEP report concluded. Now is not the time for employers to deflect from that fact.’