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Change attitudes to avoid pensions bust-up

Sally Hunt, General Secretary of UCU, has written the following article for the THES to explain why employers must change their ‘counterproductive’ attitudes towards risk to avoid further cuts to academic pensions. It can also be found online via the THES website.

The past six years have been bad ones for members of the UK’s Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), the largest pension scheme in the higher education sector and one of the biggest private sector schemes in the UK. Twice have members seen the value of their pensions reduced and been asked to pay more for the privilege.

The reason is the valuation of the fund’s deficit by the USS, which uses methodology so prudently that it has become counterproductive and now stands in the way of efforts to retain benefits at a sustainable and attractive level.

Make no mistake, this is storing up fundamental problems in the academic labour market. Ten years ago, a report commissioned for Universities UK examined, among other things, the feasibility of having one pension scheme for academic staff rather than two. It concluded that a major barrier to any move of staff from the predominantly pre-92-based USS into the mainly post-92 Teachers’ Pension Scheme (TPS) was that the USS had superior benefits such as an earlier retirement age.

Now, after two damaging rounds of USS benefit cuts, the world has turned on its head. Research from First Actuarial, recently commissioned by the University and College Union, finds that while TPS members pay a little more in contributions, their cumulative pension benefits are far superior.

To give an example, a lecturer at the pre-92 University of Oxford, who makes normal progression up the national pay spine and retires after 30 years’ service, would receive about £150,000 less over the course of their retirement than a similar lecturer at post-92 Oxford Brookes University.

With pre and post-92 universities existing cheek by jowl in most major cities, this situation is repeated throughout the UK, so that we now have in effect a two-tier pensions system for academic staff, with those in the TPS doing best.

I commissioned the research because members have been telling me since 2015 that the rival pension packages now on offer are influencing their decisions about where to work and, having seen the figures for myself, I believe them.

I am sure that some of our most famous institutions will be as concerned as I am about the recruitment, retention and reputational issues this creates as the news that Russell Group and other pre-92 institutions pay out the lowest pensions in the sector permeates outwards.

Yet, while urgent action is needed to address the issue, if we are not careful the situation could be about to get even worse. The next estimate of the USS deficit is currently under discussion. The UCU has real concerns about the methodology used but nonetheless I do believe that it is possible to reach an agreement that will at least retain benefits for members without increasing costs for employers.

But to achieve that, employers need to move away a little from their own assessment of risk. The USS is fundamentally a healthy and growing scheme that has enough cash flow to pay benefits at the current level for the next 100 years. Similarly, the higher education sector itself, while buffeted no doubt by Brexit, has seen income continue to rise and staff costs as a proportion of its expenditure continue to fall.

Most importantly, in an extensive independent study of the pre-92 sector commissioned by the USS itself, the conclusion is that the sector is strong and stable for at least the next 30 years. The USS is so assertive about this that they have even put it in the information videos that they make for members.

To make it plain, a small adjustment to the risk that employers are prepared to take would allow the sector some breathing space.

I will now be seeking meetings with vice-chancellors in USS institutions and my message will be clear: if you are prepared to work with us to find a way to retain benefits and keep contributions as they stand then you will find a willing partner in the UCU.

While we will not hesitate to act to defend members’ interests, I will do everything in my power to reach an agreement which, at the very least, does not further worsen the competitive position of USS institutions compared with TPS ones. Given how important pensions are as part of the sector’s overall pay package, I hope that others will work with us to achieve that sensible aim.

Sally Hunt
UCU General Secretary

HWUCU EU Forum – March 22nd

Heriot-Watt UCU is starting a Forum for colleagues who feel that they will be adversely affected by Brexit. The first meeting will be held from 12.30 to 13.30 on Wednesday 22nd March in MB G20. The agenda will focus on how the Forum might be organised and what support we might seek from the University, and wider afield, to ensure that all our EU colleagues can feel more secure about their futures.

The Forum is open to colleagues who aren’t HWUCU members. 

HWUCU Branch Committee 

 

 

What Do Trade Unions Do?

The branch is running an information stall this week, Tuesday to Thursday from 12pm – 2pm, outside the student hub. We have also scheduled an informal meeting Why Join a Trade Union?, to explain what trade unions do and the benefits of UCU membership at Heriot Watt. We hope that this event will be of particular interest to postgraduate research students, post docs, early career starts and staff new to the UK, but all staff eligible to join UCU (grade 6 and above) are welcome. Please pop by the stall to say hello, and encourage any colleagues who are not members of a campus union to attend this special information event.

Why join a Trade Union?
Thursday 2nd March – 1.15pm @ Postgraduate Centre Room 102
https://www.hw.ac.uk/uk/edinburgh/map/18-postgraduate-centre.htm

  • James Richards (Branch President, UCU Heriot Watt) will give a background to Trade Unions in the UK and the work of the local branch at Heriot Watt.
  • Louise McGurk (Regional Support Official, UCU Scotland) will speak on the wider campaigning work of UCU in Scotland

There will be an opportunity for attendees to ask questions during the meeting, or afterwards on a one-to-one basis. Please feel free to pass this information on to RAs, postdocs and PGR students.

Thank you
HWUCU Branch Committee

The Future of Higher Education and UCU: UCU General Secretary Election Hustings

HWUCU branch committee would like to draw attention to a very important event in terms of the future of UCU and national campaigning.pp

Elections for UCU General Secretary and NEC begin 1st February and continue until 1st March. We would encourage all members to vote and have their say in the way the union is run. Higher education is undergoing profound change with the passage of the HE Teaching and Research Bill, the introduction of TEF along with other external influences including Brexit and threats to the freedom of movement of labour. Come and hear candidates for the General Secretary position and Vice President positions in UCU. All welcome.

 Edinburgh: Monday 6th Feb 12:00 noon
Room 50 George Square (G.05) University of Edinburgh http://www.ed.ac.uk/maps/maps?building=50-george-square

Candidates for General Secretary are:
Sally Hunt
Jo McNeill

Candidates for Vice President are:
Douglas Chalmers
Carlo Morelli

All candidates are invited. Where they are unable to attend in person we will seek to provide a conference call link and / or their election material.

pp Heriot Watt UCU Committee

Open Meeting Wednesday 21st December

The next General Meeting of the HWUCU will be on Wednesday 21st of December 2016 in the Post Graduate Centre room 1.02 (Confucius Centre).

Please forward to G.S.Bruce@hw.ac.uk , or your local Rep/ Committee member, any questions/ items that you wish to be considered for the Agenda.

Douglas Chalmers, President of UCU Scotland, will be speaking and there will also be an update from your Branch Officers on what the Branch has done in the past year and what is on the horizon for the year ahead.

At this meeting we will also be announcing the winner of the Branch Banner design competition, in which the Students at the Scottish Borders Textiles and Design department have been competing.

It would be appreciated for the purposes of  catering if you could indicate if you are going to attend. Please also feel free to bring along any colleague who may be interested in becoming a member.

Heriot Watt UCU Committee

Security Matters

Security Matters is UCU’s campaign magazine featuring discussion of issues facing precarious workers in post-secondary education and reports on the union’s work to win better, more secure jobs for education professionals.

ucu_securitymatters_2_nov16_1_page_01

CPD courses for UCU members

Two half day  CPD courses  are  being held on Wednesday, 9th of November in the Millennium Hotel in Glasgow.

This first course is from 9.30am to 12.30pm and is focused on developing effective communication and assertiveness skills to help you in your career. Register here : http://cpd.web.ucu.org.uk/course-information/assertiveness-skills/

The second course runs from 1.30pm – 4.30pm and aims to develop mentoring skills.  Full details and registration available here: http://cpd.web.ucu.org.uk/course-information/mentoring/

UCU comments on opinion poll showing public support for international students

Commenting on a new opinion poll on international students, UCU said today that common sense has prevailed amongst the British public who can see the huge benefits international students bring to UK higher education and to our university towns and cities. Read the full article.

Training opportunity – Leadership in education

Leadership in education

A half day course aimed at those hoping to progress to a leadership role, or who would like to consolidate their leadership or team management skills, is being held in Aberdeen on the 25th of November.

Full details and registration available at: http://cpd.web.ucu.org.uk/course-information/leadership-in-education/

UCU Congress 2016

Live reporting from Congress 2016 at https://www.ucu.org.uk/ucu16

Address by Sally Hunt, UCU General Secretary at https://www.ucu.org.uk/sallyhunt16

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