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USS pensions: Provost’s update

22 March 2018

UCL portico

More than a week has now passed since the HE committee and Branch Chairs of UCU rejected the revised USS pension agreement, put together by joint UUK and UCU negotiators with ACAS mediation. It seems that UCU’s decision was made with limited opportunity for consultation with their UCU membership. That leaves us with no agreement and no clear way forward.

At UCL, our clearly expressed wish is for continued negotiation, and that is what UUK is offering. I also support the ‘talks behind the talks’ between UUK and UCU, which I understand are taking place. A stalemate helps no one.

I recognise the continued strain that this has on our staff, both those taking action and those who are not, as well as the impact on our students. To soften the financial impact on striking staff, I have decided that salary deductions for strike days (14 so far) will be spread over a total of seven months. Two days will be deducted from March’s payroll and there will be deductions of a further two days pay for each of the next six months for UCL staff who participated in strike action. This idea was suggested to me by a concerned member of staff, after a conversation on the picket line, and I thought it was a good one.

One of the complexities of resolving this dispute is the number of different parties that need to reach agreement within the legal framework and timetable imposed by the regulator. As well as UUK, UCU and individual employers such as UCL, there is obviously the involvement of USS itself. Until recently, USS was relatively silent, but it has now published an update from both the Chief Executive, Bill Galvin, and the Trustee Board on its website.

This provides important information. It is quite technical and, in places, explicitly critical of information provided in UCU publications. You will want to form your own opinion and I would encourage everyone to read this USS communication as background to the new experts’ group that will look at the valuation.

I’m also very conscious that people are concerned about equality and diversity aspects of the proposed changes to the USS pensions scheme. UCL recognises that pensions are absolutely an equality issue. We are strongly in favour of a full comparative Equalities Impact Assessment (EIA) being done on whichever set of USS pension proposals are taken forward.

We are fully appreciative of the extremely hard work many of you are contributing to Athena SWAN as we continue to renew our Silver institutional award. UCL has asked the Equalities Challenge Unit if they would relax the deadlines on submissions in light of the strike, however they have refused. 

The Athena SWAN and Race Charter are excellent frameworks for improving equality and we would be against the idea of not participating while the negotiations continue. It would be a pity for our efforts to stall when we are making progress in these areas, and especially before any EIA shows that USS changes would, in fact, deepen inequality. They may, but I sincerely hope they won’t – and if an EIA showed that this would be the case, that would offer further grounds for re-thinking the proposals.

Professor Michael Arthur
President & Provost