More information on the appointment and the work of the Joint Expert Panel can be found on both the UUK and UCU websites:
At the end of term, Professor Karen Cox wrote the following letter to Ruth Wilkinson, Kent Union President. The letter was in response to student queries on the subject of financial reimbursement following the recent period of strike action by members of the University and College Union. The letter is reproduced here in full.
As we reach the end of term, I wanted to let you know that we are continuing to gather information to assess the impact of the current period of industrial action on individual modules across the University. This information will allow us to develop a policy and effective mechanisms to support the consideration of any claim for compensation in a fair and equitable manner. Before we send any notification to individual students (who will have been differentially affected), we would value a discussion with you as to a suitable simple but fair approach that we might adopt to minimise any administration costs and avoid an unnecessarily legalistic approach.
We are also aware that there are a number of students who incurred expenditure, such as travel costs, to attend a lecture or seminar which was then cancelled as a result of the industrial action. In the coming weeks, we will be introducing a system to allow them to submit a claim to have this money reimbursed, aside from any wider compensation scheme. I will continue to update you on this.
Professor Karen Cox | Vice-Chancellor and President
Earlier in the week saw the announcement that there were a new set of proposals coming out of the talks facilitated by Acas between UUK and UCU.
These proposals focussed on the creation of a new Joint Expert Panel, comprised of actuarial and academic experts nominated in equal numbers from both sides, to deliver a report agreeing key principles to underpin the future joint approach of UUK and UCU to the valuation of the USS fund.
Since then, UUK have given the UCU assurance that employers would not seek to return to the previous position agreed at the JNC on 23 January, and would commit to achieving a solution that includes an element of defined benefit.
Yesterday, UUK have confirmed that employers have indicated their support for the proposals and the UCU announced that their branches and Higher Education Committee have voted to put the proposals to their members in a ballot.
In the meantime, discussions continue between UUK, USS and the Pensions Regulator to make sure of the necessary statutory and regulatory support.
The next step for the current USS dispute has now been announced at national level. The conciliation service Acas has made proposals which UCU and UUK will now take to consultation with respective parties. As part of the Acas proposal, UCU will consult its branches and members on ending industrial action.
The proposals are as follows:
- A formally agreed Joint Expert Panel, comprised of actuarial and academic experts nominated in equal numbers from both sides will be commissioned, to deliver a report. Its task will be to agree key principles to underpin the future joint approach of UUK and UCU to the valuation of the USS fund.
- It will require maintenance of the status quo in respect of both contributions into USS and current pension benefits, until at least April 2019.
- There will be a jointly agreed chair whose first step will be to oversee the agreement of the terms of reference, the order of work and timescales with the parties. Any recommendations by the group must be based on a majority view of the panel without the use of a casting vote. A secretariat, jointly agreed by the parties, will be appointed.
- The panel will focus in particular on reviewing the basis of the scheme valuation, assumptions and associated tests. It will take into account the unique nature of the HE sector, inter-generational fairness and equality considerations, the need to strike a fair balance between ensuring stability and risk. Recognising that staff highly value Defined Benefit provision, the work of the group will reflect the clear wish of staff to have a guaranteed pension comparable with current provision whilst meeting the affordability challenges for all parties, within the current regulatory framework.
- The panel will make an assessment of the valuation. If in the light of that contributions or benefits need to be adjusted in either direction, both parties are committed to agree to recommend to the JNC and the trustee, measures aimed at stabilising the fund to provide a guaranteed pension broadly comparable with current arrangements.
- Alongside the work of the panel both sides agree to continue discussion on the following areas: comparability between TPS and USS; alternative scheme design options; the role of government in relation to USS; and the reform of negotiating processes to allow for more constructive dialogue as early as possible in the valuation process.
- Support for this process will need to be sought from the USS trustees and the pensions regulator, recognising their statutory responsibilities. Both UCU and UUK will make the necessary approaches to seek this support.
Earlier this week, the Vice-Chancellor & President Professor Karen Cox wrote of her concerns over campus relations between us all, staff and students, and announced that the University will not be deducting any pay for action short of a strike (ASOS) for this period of action and that we were talking to Universities and Colleges Union (UCU) about our Graduate Teaching Assistants (GTAs) and hourly-paid lecturers (HPLs) positions to ensure there is no long-term detrimental impact if they choose to take strike action.
As a result of these discussions, the University has made the following changes to the position of GTAs, HPLs and other timesheet colleagues involved in the current action.
Changes to our Pay Policy
With respect to our GTA colleagues, and in recognition of their positions both as students and employees, we will be making no pay deductions at all related to this current period of UCU industrial action. There are no conditions attached to this decision.
With respect to HPLs and timesheet colleagues we will guarantee the offer of additional hours to match any hours they lose through industrial action once they have ceased their participation in the action. We will exercise this offer positively and flexibly where HPLs or timesheet colleagues, for reasons outside of their direct control, may have difficulty in accepting initial re-offers of work. With respect to HPLs and where it makes sense to do so (eg because a HPL contact hour has been missed due to strike action but there is still a requirement to undertake exam marking) we will pay for work at flat rate. Schools will make clear to HPLs in advance of requiring marking to be done whether they regard this marking as connected with earlier contact hours which have been worked (and therefore payment has already been received for the associated marking) or whether the relevant work will be paid at flat rate. No staff will be expected to work without payment.
This position, will be reflected in the HR FAQs and pay policy as soon as we are able. We will also edit our pay policy and FAQs so that there is no longer a reference to deductions for Action Short of a Strike (ASOS). These changes may though take a couple of working days to be made. In the meantime, all Timesheet and HPL colleagues should now complete a ‘Record of Hours Not Worked’ form for the hours they were due to have worked, but have missed due to industrial action. Once signed by the relevant Head, a copy will be returned to the member of staff and another retained by the school/department as a record of the hours to be offered in the future. The new form will be available on the HR website by Monday 12 March – https://www.kent.ac.uk/human-resources/pensions/uss-industrial-action2018/.
Thank you for your letters, emails and face-to-face conversations over the last few days.
I acknowledge the challenges we have all been facing over the past few weeks with strike action. It is not easy trying to balance respecting the right to take action over an issue we all want resolving in the best interests of current and future staff, our University and the sector as a whole, with minimising the impact on our students and those colleagues not taking action. As I noted in an email to colleagues last week, I would like to thank all of you for the time, effort and energy that is going into working our way through this; it is much appreciated. I recognise many of you are juggling relationships and communications between students, staff taking action and those not taking action and I do not underestimate the emotional work that goes in to this when current and future relationships are trying to be maintained.
I have heard from staff and students from across the University. I have been ‘out and about’ and talking with staff and students as well and I am very concerned about how things have unfolded here at Kent in relation to the dispute over pensions. I want to assure you I am actively seeking to resolve these internally. It is not the way I want things to be and my aim is to get back to positive campus relations between us all, our staff and students. To that end, I have indicated that we will not be deducting any pay for action short of a strike (ASOS) for this period of action. In addition, we have been talking, and will continue to talk, with Universities and Colleges Union (UCU) about our Graduate Teaching Assistants (GTAs) and hourly-paid lecturers positions to ensure there is no long-term detrimental impact if they choose to take strike action. I also appreciate all that is being done to mitigate the impact of any action on our students and hope that this will continue.
I will personally continue with my support for the need for decent pensions. I will also continue with my public calls for continued and constructive discussions between UCU and Universities UK (UUK) to resolve this. I made a public call to UUK in a letter dated 21 February on this which was reported in The Times and have continued to lobby UUK to this effect. I was very pleased when discussions resumed between UUK and UCU facilitated by the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS). I will continue to publicly support constructive discussions. We have also been lobbying the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) on this issue as well with regard to the assumptions which underlie the valuation and which are driving the deficit. We have invited them to the University to discuss this and had face-to-face conversations to raise our concerns. We have also lobbied them via UUK. We will continue to exert this pressure.
Earlier this year, I embarked on a series of discussions in schools and professional services departments and these are continuing. I see these as a good opportunity to have conversations about our future as a University and how we can work together to create an even better working, learning and research environment. I hope I will get to meet more colleagues at one of these meetings or one of the other open forums I will be running later in the year.
I look forward to working together with you all and I thank you for all you do for the University on a daily basis.
Professor Karen Cox, Vice-Chancellor and President
Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Karen Cox has welcomed the confirmation from Universities UK (UUK) that it is asking for further talks with UCU and would be open to reintroducing defined benefits if economic and funding conditions improve. An open letter to all vice-chancellors, signed by both the UUK’s President and Chief Executive, said ‘We are open to changing the scheme again to reintroduce defined benefits if economic and funding conditions improve. To that end we have been and continue to ask for further talks with UCU on the future of the scheme’. The letter also invites members of the USS to put forward ‘any proposals you feel may not have been sufficiently considered.’
In her latest blog, Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Karen Cox gives an assurance that she will continue to press for a consideration of alternative options by UUK, UCU and the USS. Tomorrow (Friday 23 February) she 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.
With so much going on at the start of the new academic year you may be wondering how you are going to relax and recuperate from all the exciting activities. Kent Sport has the answer! From arrivals weekend until the end of November we have two special offers for students and staff and you don’t event have to be a member.
Kent Sport Physiotherapy Clinic (www.kent.ac.uk/sports/physio), located in the Sports Centre fitness suite, is offering a 30 minute sports massage for just £15. Amazing value! Whether you want to relieve muscle tension or prepare for your sport and fitness activities you are sure to feel pampered and refreshed afterwards. Just email firstname.lastname@example.org, call 01227 824375 or drop by the Sports Centre reception to find out more and make a booking.
The Pavilion Cafe Bar has a delicious menu (www.kent.ac.uk/sports/pavilioncafebar/docs/menu_final_web.pdf), Sky tv and the best views of sport on campus. If you are looking for a place to relax, socialise with friends and enjoy great food, head on over to the Pavilion. Plus, from Arrivals until the end of November you will be treated to a free drink with any meal purchased at the Pavilion Cafe Bar. Drinks include soft drinks, tea and coffee, Oranjiboom, Spitfire and Thatchers.
That’s not all! Take part in either of these offers and you will automatically be in with a chance to win a free fitness package (https://www.kent.ac.uk/sports/healthandfitness/fitnessconsults.html). The package includes an initial fitness consultation, a fitness programme and a personal training session. Just be sure to provide your contact information at the Kent Sport Physiotherapy Clinic or Pavilion Cafe Bar.
To stay up to date with Kent Sport news, activities and offers follow @UniKentSports on social media.
The Campus Shuttle booking is now open. Book a seat online at www.kent.ac.uk/campus-shuttle .
The Campus Shuttle is a free coach service between Canterbury and Medway campuses, exclusively available to University of Kent students and staff.
The shuttle will start running from Saturday 16 September.
Booking guarantees you a seat on the service. If you do not book, you can still travel with your Kent One or Kent Union card if seats are available.
More information can be found at www.kent.ac.uk/campus-shuttle