As you will know, due to industrial action starting Thursday, November 6, lecturers who are members of the University and College Union (UCU) will not be setting or marking any assessed work or examinations until the dispute with university employers over staff pensions is resolved. I will be carrying out all other duties as normal – teaching classes, giving lectures, seminars, practical classes, supervisions – so your teaching will not be affected.
I understand that you will be concerned about the impact this is likely to have on your studies and that’s why I’m writing to explain what is happening and why.
Lecturers have decided to take this action because of proposed changes to the university pension scheme, called “university superannuation scheme” (USS), which will mean significantly reduced benefits, in some cases as much as £12,000 a year. We are angry that the employers are seeking to end pension schemes that were signed up to in good faith by staff, so our trade union, the (UCU) held a ballot to decide what to do. 80% of those who voted were in favour of taking action and there is clear support across pre-1992 universities for the boycott.
This is not a decision we have taken lightly and the last thing lecturers want is to damage your education, but unfortunately we are now left with no other option but to take this stand to protect our right to a fair and decent pension. This action is also about being able to attract and retain the best staff but if the proposed changes go ahead, staff in post-92 universities will have much more favourable pension schemes and many of the best lecturers may well be attracted to work there instead.
The cuts to our pensions are unfair but they are also unnecessary. The projections of a deficit are strongly contested by UCU’s financial experts who advise that the scheme is actually in very good financial health. Since 2011 the pension fund’s investments have grown by £8bn and the returns on these investments have outperformed average earnings and inflation.
Lecturers and support staff all want to avoid disruption to your education and our union, UCU, is trying to negotiate with the university employers to ensure a fair pension but the quickest way to end this dispute is for the pension scheme managers and the employers to sit down and negotiate, rather than just imposing their own proposals unilaterally.
I’m asking for your support in this action. We believe that if student bodies throughout the country make their opinions known to vice-chancellors, there is a good chance that the employers will moderate their position. Please feel free to email the Vice Chancellor calling on her/him to press their national negotiators to produce a fair and sustainable proposal.
As I said in the lecture, we will do what we can to support you, but there will be some decisions that need to be taken by others. This might relate to communication with funders over progress, and progression onto other modules. I do hope this situation can be resolved as soon as possible, but I am cognisant that this fight we are now in may be very likely to be very relevant to some of you who may well be the academics of the future.