USS Pension Update: Complaint to UUK

A complaint has been lodged to USS on behalf over over 3,000 UCU USS members in a letter that can be read here. The text below has been modified from an email sent out by Neil Davies, a member highly active in the USS dispute.

The second stage of the complaints process should be passed onto an advisory committee of the USS which is made up of three UUK members (Mr C Vidgeon, Dr A Bruce, Mr D Linfoot) and three UCU members (Marion Hersh, Chris Grocott Renee Prendergast). Neil believes the USS has a further 4 months to respond.

However, Neil does not believe that it is likely that the USS will uphold our complaint. The next stage of this process is to escalate the complaint to the Pensions Ombudsman. Again, it is unclear whether the Pensions Ombudsman would uphold our complaint, however it is important to use these complaints process to demonstrate the USS’s accountability to members. 

This is one of the reasons why legal action is so important. We have raised the £50k required to get this underway. Thanks so much to everyone who donated. Please do not donate further to the crowd fund, Ewan and I will be in touch with donors asap once this gets underway.

What are the key dates? 

At the end of August the USS Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC) will respond to the USS proposals for the 2020 valuation. UUK has submitted a proposal that involves very substantial benefit cuts which could reduce the value of the pension we earn in future by £100,000s. Please see the pensions modeller to see how it could affect you. If the JNC accepts the UUK cuts, then USS will aim to finalise the valuation and implement the changes by April 2022. 

What else can we do?

  1. Let the Chair of the USS Trustees know your view. 
  2. Find out what the university’s position is on the UUK proposal (there are details in the updates below, but ask Chris for details or, better still, email Karen Cox to ask). There have been few (no?) public statements of support. However, many institutions responded to a short UUK consultation in June, in which UUK claims most institutions support the proposals. Ask your VC whether they support the proposals.
  3. If you have legal expertise, especially in company, regulation, pension, or trust law, and would like to help, please get in touch. 
  4. If you know, or know how to contact government special advisors, especially at the Treasury, Department for Work and Pensions, or the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, please let me know.
  5. Finally – let your colleagues know about what is being proposed, and how it could affect them. Ask them if they could retire if the max USS pension someone could earn was about £20k/year? 

Motions Passed at Branch Meeting 21.07.21

At a branch meeting on the 21st July 2021 the branch voted to adopt the following four motions:

Vote Number 1 – Subs Increase

This motion set local subs rates for the year. Please contact any of the branch officers for details.

 

Motion 2 – Against Victimization of UCU reps

Branch notes:

  1. Senior management have victimised Kent UCU reps in the past.
  2. The basic requirement not to victimise reps also applies to all UCU members and is a condition of membership. National UCU Rule 13: procedure for the regulation of conduct of members: members must ‘refrain from conduct detrimental to the interest of the union’.

Branch resolves:

  1. To stand shoulder to shoulder with our reps, who undertake a difficult role in fighting for members within the University.
  2. To promote a zero-tolerance policy on victimisation of our reps.
  3. Where necessary, to seek protection of our reps through national UCU, which ‘takes discrimination against union members and representatives seriously and will actively pursue protections under law’.

 

Motion 3 – In Support of UCU Leicester and UCU Liverpool

Branch notes:

  1. Staff at the University of Leicester have been threatened with over 100 compulsory redundancies.
  2. The long-running dispute has led to UCU greylisting the University; UCU members have also begun a marking and assessment boycott, and, having seen no meaningful engagement from the university, are engaging in full strike action.
  3. Management of the University of Liverpool, are attempting to sack 21 members of staff.
  4. Having already begun a marking boycott, around 1,300 UCU members at the university went on strike for three consecutive weeks from Monday 24 May to Friday 11 June. 
  5. The University of Liverpool has now refused to meet with UCU, or to allow Acas to mediate between UCU and management.
  6. The UCU has also greylisted the University of Liverpool.

Branch resolves:

  1. To boycott all activity with the Universities of Leicester and Liverpool until their industrial action is resolved.
  2. To write to the the University of Leicester’s president Nishan Canagarajah, and vice-chancellor Gary Dixon, and the University of Liverpool’s vice-chancellor Janet Beer, to explain why we have withdrawn our interest and association.
  3. To donate £100 to each branch’s strike fund.

 

Motion 4 – Against the Non-Democratic Adoption of the IHRA Definition of Antisemitism at Council

Branch notes:

  1. Antisemitism, like all forms of racism, must be strongly opposed whenever it occurs.
  2. Like all definitions, the IHRA definition of antisemitism is contested, though is notably subject to strong political support and opposition. 
  3. As part of a growing tendency towards government intervention in Universities, the Minister for Education, Gavin Williamson, has pressured Universities to adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism. This political pressure was recognised in the letter to Council proposing the motion to adopt the IHRA definition.
  4. The University of Kent surveyed both its staff and students regarding whether or not it should adopt the IHRA. With some exceptions, the staff survey largely rejected the adoption of the IHRA definition in favour of the Jerusalem Definition, a position which attendees to JSNCC reinforced to management.
  5. At an extraordinary meeting of the Senate on 28 April 2021, the Senate voted 25-0 (with 3 abstentions) ‘to recommend to Council that the University endorse the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism as a more appropriate working definition than the IHRA.’

  6. In particular, staff reported that the IHRA definition conflates antisemitism with legitimate criticism of Israeli foreign policy and would thus prohibit academic research.
  7. Nevertheless, on 25th June 2021, Council approved the IHRA definition with the proviso that the JDA should be used as a guiding principle.

Branch resolves:

  1. To condemn the anti-democratic practice, employed by Council, of adopting policy that is rejected by the majority of its staff base.
  2. To write a letter to the Head of Council requesting,
    1. a full account of why the University is substituting democratic principles for submission to Government’s pressure.
    2. that changes to Council’s operating principles are brought forward so that Council acts in accordance with democratic views, when they are put forward.

Kent UCU Victory! University Commits to no Compulsory Redundancies of UCU Members in 2021

🎉Congratulations! 🎉 You have defended your job and those of fellow UCU members!

Our agreement with the University gives UCU members protection from job cuts in 2021.

E-Vote Result:

Do you accept the agreement between UCU and the university to resolve the dispute over compulsory redundancies in 2021?

Yes: 96%

Thanks to your vote in the ballot and your agreement to accept a deal, our dispute over compulsory redundancies in 2021 is now closed. Your ballot beat job cuts!

Before your vote in the industrial action ballot, Kent University was:

  • Drawing up redundancy selection criteria for academics. 
  • Aiming to cut £2 million from staff “costs” 
  • Refusing to rule out compulsory redundancies (CRs) in 2021

What have we won?

  • No CRs as part of 2million ‘cost savings’
  • No CRs due to recruitment 
  • No CRs due to any shortfalls in income

UoK UCU & senior management’s full dispute resolution statement can be read here

USS Update: HQ and UUK Surveys on USS Proposal

Short Summary (TL; DR)

  • Please oppose Option A in the upcoming survey on the USS that management is about to send out. It involves huge cuts to pensions based on an unjustified and debunked valuation.
  • Please complete the HQ survey (previously circulated by email) to indicate when would be the best time to take action as a national union to defend pensions & pay.

Full Update

Following a series of back and forth communications, the USS Trustees released a new proposal for UUK’s consideration, who are now consulting member Universities between 18 June – 5 July. Following a sub-JSNCC meeting earlier this week, EG will themselves consult members of staff on the proposal, ‘Option A’.

In line with the national UCU position, I am writing to recommend that you strongly oppose Option A, which would be to accept devastating cuts to staff pensions. In specific, Option A amounts to a cap on indexation of 2.5%, a reduction from 60k to 40k in the Direct Benefit hybrid, and a cut in accrual from 1/75 to 1/85. In general, UUK says we should pay more, work longer, have fewer guarantees, for a worse pension that will not track inflation.

UUK was highly critical of the 2020 valuation and requested a review, which USS rejected on 29 March. UUK then conducted an in-depth consultation between 7 April – 24 May, that asked questions about covenant support, USS governance and proposed changes to the scheme.

Reporting on this consultation UUK has so far issued only a short statement, 15 June, promising further detail this month. Yet, this statement repeated the incorrect claim that:

UUK’s proposal would lead to a headline reduction of about 12% in future pension benefits.

UUK know this statement is incorrect as UUK’s own actuary confirmed the average cut is 21%, while UCU’s individual modeller, designed by their actuary, demonstrates the high level of individual cuts, with the largest falling disproportionately on younger members of staff and so also disproportionately impacting those from under-represented groups.

UCU has rightly referred to UUK’s behaviour as a PR exercise to justify slashing pensions. UUK has now opened this second consultation, with a two week deadline, that contains almost no mention of the level of cuts or detail on proposals for flexible options.

For these reasons, and given that all stakeholders consider the valuation unjustified, I recommend you firmly reject Option A, which would slash staff pensions. I also recommend you call on UUK in the survey to join with UCU on the JNC to propose sustainable reforms to the governance of USS, to publicly lobby for a better understanding of the strength of the sector and to defend staff pensions against this unjustified attack.

What you can do

  • Oppose Option A in the upcoming survey that management are about to release. This will demonstrate the strength of members’ will and encourage them to adopt an opposing position.
  • Please complete the HQ survey (previously circulated by email) to indicate when would be the best time to take action as a national union to defend pensions & pay.
  • Fill in the USS modeller to see how the current proposals will impact your pensions.

USS update: resources

This is a short update with a list of resources that members can use to navigate their way through recent events with USS, and to see what your elected representatives and actuarial advisers have been saying about them. As always, if you have any questions or would like anything clarifying, please get in contact with one of the branch officers.

UCU Resources

FAQ for members (this will be updated regularly)
Email from Jo to members, 19 May 2021
Email from Jo to members, 27 April 2021
Briefing for USS branches, 19 April 2021
Email from Jo to members, 5 March 2021
Jo’s blog on the USS valuation for the Higher Education Policy Institute, February 2021
USS campaign updates tend to get posted at this link

Actuarial Resources

First Actuarial comments on the USS 2020 valuation technical provisions consultation, September 2021
First Actuarial note on funding and prudence in the 2020 USS valuation, April 2021
First Actuarial note on security of accrued benefits, April 2021
First Actuarial analysis of impact of changes to USS, 2011-2019 (this was commissioned and published for the last strike ballot in 2019 but remains relevant and very useful)

Senate Discussion: IHRA Definition of Antisemitism

We’d like to give you an update on an issue that we think is becoming very critical in recent months: the IHRA definition of antisemitism. We’re sure all of you know how complicated this issue is and we know that many of you have different opinions and concerns as to these complexities, the long held debates (both within and beyond the university), the legitimate and illegitimate arguments on both sides, etc.

We also understand that a consultative survey has been circulated to gain feedback from staff and students before this issue is taken back to Council. This is great news! For context, in lieu of the possible financial penalisation accrued from the government, university management initially decided to funnel this definition through as a ‘governance issue’. Meaning that it was only subject to a discussion concerning its manner of implementation into university structures, and not to any critical debate as to the viability of the definition itself for staff and students. It is only due to the great work carried out by the members of Senate that it this critical discussion has now been given space to occur.

As a committee, we have significant concerns over the adoption of any IHRA definition in any of its forms (with or without the more recent modifications made by the Home Affairs Select Committee). This is due to, 

  • Concern that it will restrict the capacity for carrying out nuanced and necessary research into racism, antisemitism, the Israel/Palestine conflict, etc, as well as inhibit academic autonomy in a larger sense. 
  • Concern that the definition is vague in language and lacking in content, mischaracterises antisemitism, conflates antisemitism with valid criticism of Israel. All of which makes the definition virtually unusable.
  • Concern that it doesn’t have the unified support of Jewish communities. 

We, like Senate, are keen to explore alternative definitions. We feel that the JDA definition, in particular, contains a far more balanced, concrete and usable set of guidelines for effectively dealing with cases antisemitism within our institution.

We also would like to make the point that, if these conversations concerning definitions are being raised in correlation to an ingrained systemic problem within institutional structures (as we’re sure they are), then this would be a great opportunity for management to reflect on the university’s provisions and approach to harassment and discrimination in the more general sense. Regardless of any definition adopted, harassment and discrimination provision needs to be better. Staff and students need to feel safe in their workspaces and know that, when they raise harassment and discrimination allegations, they will be taken seriously and in ways that meaningfully resolve the situation.

This IHRA definition has been tagged for a discussion at a JSNCC meeting this Wednesday and so we are keen to hear from members. Please email any feedback to the committee. 

UCU and UoK Joint Statement Regarding the USS Trustee and Valuation

Lines dividing the UCU and UUK positions regarding the 2020 USS Trustee valuation are regrettably becoming clearer. In an email sent yesterday, Jo Grady wrote that, rather than attempt to pressure the trustees into reforming their reverse-engineered and unjustified valuation, UUK ‘is proposing massive cuts to USS members’ retirement benefits and is consulting [our employers] on whether to not to endorse them’.

In particular, and among the changes UUK have proposed in response to the valuation, is a cut to the defined benefit element of the scheme with a proposal to replace a portion of the scheme with a defined contribution option for lower paid staff. Details of the difference between the two can be found here but, in short, this change would result in an unacceptable two-tier system of deferred payment.

Both the UCU Branch Officers and the University of Kent Executive Group recognise the danger posed by the USS Trustee’s 2020 valuation to the viability of the scheme, and we have released a joint statement to this effect. Specifically, the joint statement calls for an endorsement of the 2019 Joint Expert Panel recommendations for reform, a key aspect of the UCU’s position since the publication of its second report.

As members will know, the University of Kent has recently undertaken a survey of USS eligible staff in order to shape its institutional response to the UUK consultation. The Executive Group’s response to UUK will play a significant part in determining the latter’s policy, as we understand our VC is influential in their decision-making. Branch officers will be meeting with management on the 30th to discuss the survey results at a sub-JSNCC meeting, and we welcome any comments from members in advance of that meeting.

It is important to bear in mind that, as is made clear at the bottom of the joint statement, this letter does not signify an alignment of our positions in any greater respect than is set out in the letter, and we may still take issue with the University’s course of action in the future.

Furthermore, we are still in dispute with the University management around their refusal to rule out compulsory redundancies this year: this joint statement should in no way indicate a softening of our conviction to ensure a successful ballot and that no one loses their job.

Nevertheless, this statement, which has been endorsed at both regional and national levels of the UCU, is a clear and unambiguous call for the revision of the USS governance and revision of its valuation, and the Branch Officers hope that it paves the way for more Universities to express their dissatisfaction with the USS valuation and Trustee’s governance.

The joint statement can be read here.

USS Pensions Update

Overview

The USS 2020 valuation is not fit for purpose, the governance of USS is not fit for purpose. The behaviour of the Pensions Regulator is at odds with its remit The situation has changed considerably since 2019 when UUK had ‘full confidence in the way the giant USS scheme was being run’ FT, July 2019. UUK have publicly written to USS to call for a review of the valuation, describing the valuation as ‘unjustified’, ‘unnecessary’, and ‘unaffected by the evidence presented’. The actuarial report by Aon for UUK describes the valuation as ‘misleading’ and a ‘hall of mirrors’. In writing to the Pension Regulator, UUK state ‘we are particularly concerned about the influence of the Pensions Regulator on the USS Trustee’ and ‘we have seen little evidence to date that there is focus on your statutory objective’. The UUK consultation document explicitly states that ‘scheme governance is long overdue a review’.  Astonishingly USS Trustee, which has total power over the £80 billion in assets of the University sector pension fund, responsible for the pensions of over 400,000 people has refused to conduct a review as requested by employers and employees as represented by UUK and UCU.  So UUK are now consulting employers on a substandard valuation. 

Edit: you can see the estimated effects of the new valuations’ scenarios on your pensions using the web app here.

Where does this leave the University community? 

All USS Defined Benefit pensions accrued to date are guaranteed, firstly by the collective strength of the HE sector and then by the Pension Protection Fund. However, as explained by Sam Marsh, the USS Trustee has forecast such ridiculously low asset returns that a shortfall of between £15-18 billion is estimated. As discussed by Neil Davies, the approach adopted by the USS Trustee appears to involve reverse-engineering.

So the USS Trustee is now claiming that either huge contributions or hugely detrimental benefit reductions are necessary. The claims have been met by widespread public criticisms, and are considered ‘misleading’ by all stakeholders. The proposed contributions are all unaffordable, and there is widespread agreement, including with Mike Otsuka, that the UUK proposal to cut benefits are ‘insulting and provocative’ as described by Jo Grady, UCU General Secretary. The UUK Aon proposed structure is a more expensive version of a proposal made in 2018, implementing a significant deterioration in pension benefits. This proposal should be rejected on the grounds that no one should agree to have their pension devalued by 20% as a consequence of valuation that is not fit for purpose. 

And what can we collectively do about it?  

If you are a USS Member or eligible to be a USS member, you can share your views with your employer. You can do this two ways. You can respond to the University of Sussex survey that will opening today and close on Thursday 29 April. The UUK survey template asks vague questions about ‘flexibility’ and ‘concerns’ but without context and as such responses could easily be misinterpreted. There are no questions that allow staff to give views on governance reforms, conditional indexation, there is no opportunity to share thoughts on options such as legal action or political lobbying or industrial action. University of Kent UCU has not been consulted on the survey and we will raise our concerns.  Secondly, you can share your views with branch and, if you would like to do so, please email me to arrange a meeting.

Where to start in forming your views? 

We are fully aware of the overwhelming complexity and the time available to people to commit to forming views. On top of the initial valuation documents, the consultation documents alone are over 200 pages long. They are unnecessarily complex, obscure and misleading. There is considerable work to do to unpick the nonsense from the small amount of useful but disjointed information.  We don’t expect USS members to have time to unpick the details and, even with the support of UCU and other pension reps, we are struggling. However we do want to talk to you and hear from you all. There needs to be action on USS, and in addition to your views on the valuation, and we need to know what kinds of action you would support.

 

Previous Communication with EG

Having outlined the situation in general above, here is a record of our communication with EG on pensions. We have so far written two letters to Karen Cox and have had two replies. Members will be able to see for themselves the level of commitment being made to influence the USS Trustees and their position.

Continue reading

Workload Campaign Update

On Wednesday 7th April, Chris attended a sub-JSNCC meeting with Richard Reece, Martin Atkinson,  Louise Naylor and Daniel Clarke in order to discuss plans for Autumn term 2021-22 teaching. At the meeting, Richard presented a .pptx that contained a range of plans that were to be put to EG today (Monday 12.4.21). Richard requested that I not share this with members until EG had confirmed plans, after which he would send me the slides so I could forward them to members. I’ll do so as soon as I receive the slides. In the meantime, I can pass on some general information from the meeting, as well as my impressions of what next term will look like. This post should be taken as a quick note as to my impressions of the meeting, and not the minutes (which will be available on the HR website), nor condoning any of the positions mentioned.

The Near Future

First, Richard was at pains to emphasise that plans will be contingent upon lockdown requirements and government policy. Early planning is important but ‘events might overtake us,’ he said. That said, there is currently an assumption that campus will be ‘open,’ though what ‘open’ might mean is not entirely clear. It seems that the current plan is to accommodate some form of social distancing in teaching spaces until 2022 based on the possibility of a third wave of infections. This has been predicted by SAGE, although the same group have (very) recently been encouraged by the continued drop in Covid-19 cases.  In any case, international travel restrictions are likely to mean accommodating international students both in residencies and classrooms will be the most problematic. As a result,  taught MA programmes look likely to face the most obstruction to a return to normal.

It is likely the social distancing will be at least 1m+ rule, and the Autumn timetable is currently being constructed upon this assumption. In this case, all lectures will again be delivered online with what Richard called ‘high value peer and teacher interactions’ being carried out face to face. The branch must be vigilant to pressure to re-use teaching material, and indeed Richard suggested that academics would able to do so if they wanted. The devaluation of a university education implied by the reuse of academic material over a number of years is clear, and branch officers will strive to make sure that the reuse of academic material cannot used as a panacea to workload demands on teaching staff.

Of particular note to members will be both the suggestion that programme coordinators have been asked to look at optional modules in terms of what can be ‘reasonably offered,’ and that there will be no student cap on first year modules. I enquired as to how staff will be immunised against threats to progression and job security if modules are not to be continued, and how the variety of education students can expect at the University will be maintained if this is the case.  Richard emphasised that this was not an effort to save money, and that only first year/first term modules would be affected. Louise also clarified that this is not to be enforced, but it is an option that is offered to Divisions in order to manage timetables. Furthermore, she said that impact assessment in promotion criteria has put in place a pandemic mitigation section that takes into account module evaluations and modules not being run. Staff have been asked to comment on the way that they have been affected, and that they should continue to do so.

The Further Future

Following a number of members concerns, I was keen to emphasise the importance of the University not adopting the model of the open University, but remaining fully a bricks and mortar institution. This was, Richard replied, not the intention for the medium or long-term, but some form of remote learning must continue into the short term. First, he said, there are 2,000 students who study remotely this year and that the University has a commitment to these students. Secondly, there are some courses that have been designed already for purely online provision (please excuse me shilling the one I designed) and he said that the continued provision of these remains a local, academic decision. This reassurance is something, but we have already seen from suggestions to push the University to a two-semester calendar that some members of EG are keen to immunise ‘normal business practice’ from threats (such as global viral pandemics and industrial action…).

Martin acknowledged the workload implications of continued blended learning provision. In response to my comments that, whilst IT services had provided an excellent suite of resources in order for staff to familiarise themselves with online learning, they simply did not have the time to take advantage of them, Martin said that more thought had to be put into this. However, programme-level evaluation of teaching might help reduce the workload and, for example, learning objectives being assessed.

What Members Can Do

Louise asked me to pass on to questions to members, responses to which would be valuable for her and her team.

  1. What kind of support would be necessary to prepare for the ongoing disruption in the Autumn term?
  2. How have staff been affected by the Covid period and the move towards blended learning? What does the mitigation policy need to address?

If members have any thoughts on these questions, please email Louise Naylor directly, CCing me (c.m.henry@kent.ac.uk).

In the meantime, Iain, Daniel Bearup and I will have a separate meeting with Richard on Friday to discuss the Board of Education and Student Experience responses (Education and Student Experience Response and E-Learning Team Response) to the recommendations in the Workload Survey Analysis document. If any members have any comments that we can feed into our conversation, please do email me.

All the best,

Chris

UCU Workload Survey 2020

In December 2020, branch officers undertook a survey of members in order to assess the impact of the transition towards blended learning on staff workload. Taking into account both qualitative and quantitative data from both professional services and academic members of staff, officers then compiled an analytical report and eight recommendations for the University to address that would help alleviate the increased burned on staff.

You can read the workload report here.

 

The recommendations were as follows:

 

1. Revise, if not remove, added activities and asynchronous lectures from teaching requirements entirely, and ensure that all teaching move towards synchronous, timetabled lectures (unless requested by convenors).

2. Clarify how staff will be paid for the extra hours they have worked since the transition to blended learning, or how much TOIL they will receive.

a) In particular, guarantee that all extra time which has been put into teaching by members who are not on GTA contracts will be financially remunerated. Those who are on a GTA contract and who put in extra time should be offered the choice of either, i) direct financial remuneration or, ii) the equivalent time deducted from their required teaching time for the rest of their contract.

3. Clearly commit to the suspension of any redundancies, whether compulsory or in any other way stemming from Organising for Success, in order to prevent conditions worsening.

4. Commit resources to a concerted and comprehensive investigation of the added workload pressures and accompanying negative health consequences created by the Organising for Success initiative.9

5. Commission a report to discern the impact of additional workload on workers in equalities communities, and then carry out the report’s recommendations.

6. Consult with junior members of staff directly—and without records of identifying information being kept—in order to determine suitable best practice for their teaching.

7. Signpost more clearly the IT equipment loan facilities and commission a use-case analysis in order to determine whether or not the equipment available is sufficient for the tasks required of it.

8. Ensure that the software used to facilitate online and blended learning is fit for use and has 100% uptime.

a) Ensure staff have platforms that guarantee students cannot cheat during tests, whilst linking test questions to TurnItIn so plagiarism can be detected.

b) Distribute easy-to-follow tips on how to maintain computers for optimal working efficiency/speed.