USS Pensions – Renewed national discussions needed

I am in no doubt about the strength of feeling about USS Pensions. However, while I absolutely respect colleagues’ right to take industrial action, I also need to balance this against the potential impact on our students. I appreciate the hard work taking place in schools and professional service departments to mitigate this. We are regularly meeting Kent Union President Ruth Wilkinson and the other sabbaticals to discuss their concerns and address them wherever possible.

The issue we have here is that this is a national problem that will require a national solution. As you may be aware, I have written to the Chief Executive of Universities UK to express the University’s deep frustration at the apparent deadlock in discussions between UUK and UCU. Although we agree that the proposals put forward by UCU are unaffordable and unsustainable – here at Kent they would add £4.5m to our staff costs – we do believe there are opportunities that may provide some basis for renewed discussions with the UCU and it is not clear that these have been fully explored by either party.

These are:

  • whether there is scope for deferring the implementation of the de-risking of the investment strategy, given that it largely drives the increase in the projected deficit.  It would make sense to revisit the discussions on risk in an informed and measured manner, and to fully consider a range of options including the re-introduction of some element of Defined Benefits into the scheme if investment returns exceed the 2017 assumptions.
  • whether there might also be further consultation with employers as to whether some limited additional contribution might be made should the currently proposed changes go ahead.

We have now received a letter from UUK – written to all Vice-Chancellors – which indicates a willingness to engage in further national talks with UCU.  This is very welcome news and I hope it will pave the way for a negotiated settlement of this dispute.

I will continue to press for a consideration of alternative options by UUK, UCU and the USS. This is a highly complex situation and is it vital that all those concerned work together. Tomorrow, I will be meeting with Universities UK and Vice-Chancellors from across the sector and will ensure that Kent’s voice is among those calling for a resumption of national discussions on the future of the USS pension.

Professor Karen Cox, Vice-Chancellor and President