University strike despite collaboration ‘disappointing’, says UUK

Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) employers have backed recent pension reforms, arguing they are a “viable and affordable solution to a difficult situation”.

At a press conference, Universities UK (UUK) chairman, Professor Steve West, argued that “action needed to be taken if employers and scheme members were to avoid the imposition of increases as expensive on the part of the administrator of the USS”.

West also said that while it’s “never an easy decision to change people’s pensions… ignoring the problem and hoping it goes away isn’t the answer.”

USS employers have been called on to reverse the reforms as part of recent funding improvements, with the latest monitoring update suggesting retroactive restoration would cost around £0.5billion a year.

However, West said that while the apparent improvements in funding are “clearly welcome news”, the ASU Administrator has made it clear that these monitoring reports are not comparable to a full assessment and that the reports should only be considered only as a general direction.

“The funding position is also fragile, reflecting the broader economy and global growth prospects,” he continued. “The USS administrator said that given the high volatility in the financial markets, he does not believe there is a need to change contribution levels or benefits until the next full review – scheduled for 31 March 2023.”

West also expressed disappointment that the University College Union (UCU) continued with its industrial action plans later this month, in light of ongoing collaborative work between the organizations.

He said: “Employers want to work together with the UCU to find ways to speed up the next assessment so that any positive changes for plan members can be made as quickly as possible.

“We are already working with UCU ahead of the next assessment, including through a newly created technical forum looking at some of the detailed aspects and assumptions to be fed.

“The work also includes producing an accelerated assessment schedule, exploring a redesign of the scheme and ways to make the scheme more flexible and attractive to staff, for example, by allowing them to pay rates lower pension contributions for a short time.”

More broadly, West reassured students that “universities are well prepared to mitigate the impact of any industrial action on student learning.”

He continued: “To put this into context though; there are over 200,000 members in the USS Pension Plan and only 24,239 (out of 47,567 voted by the UCU) voted to strike. This means that about 1 in 10 of those in the USS voted for strike action.

“We sincerely hope that the UCU will reconsider this action. It is not too late for it to be avoided. We continue to speak to the union to try to reach an agreement.

“When it comes to the pension dispute, the most productive thing we can do for plan members is to work together constructively to ensure a sustainable plan for the future.”

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