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.

Press Release: Ballot Against Compulsory Redundancies at the University of Kent

Following the outstanding result of our e-ballot, the Kent UCU branch has launched our local postal ballot against compulsory redundancies.

The branch has one simple demand of senior management: rule out compulsory redundancies in 2021. That is why the branch committee & reps are asking you to vote YES to strike action and YES to action short of a strike.

The branch does not yet know where the planned £1-1.6million in staff cost cuts will fall, but we do know that the Executive Group is making those decisions now. They have repeatedly refused to rule out compulsory redundancies of academic or professional services staff. The branch must be able to act swiftly to prevent further job losses.

By voting in this ballot, we can defeat compulsory redundancies at Kent. In the past few months both Herriot Watt and Uni of Central Lancashire have done just that with a great strike ballot result. We can do the same! We just need you to return your ballot papers.

Watch our EDI rep, Jonjo Brady, explain why it is vital that all of us vote in the ballot and, for more information on voting a the dispute read our ballot FAQs.

Press Release

Press Release as a pdf.

UCU University of Kent Ballot Press Release

UCU University of Kent Ballot Press Release

UCU University of Kent Ballot p. 2

UCU University of Kent Ballot Press Release p. 2

Petition

We’re currently not only balloting against compulsory redundancies, we’re also petitioning for the highest-paid at the University of Kent (those earning over £100k) to take a 20% pay cut. Whilst we are being told that jobs must be cut in order to save money, we think it would be better if those who can afford to take a pay cut should shoulder the burden instead.

👉👉chng.it/VQkmDsTbZx👈👈

 

Branch alternatives to Pay Freeze

Dear UCU members,

As promised last Friday, this email will provide you with details of UCU’s alternative proposals to those offered by management.  It contains our proposals to respond to the financial shock of Covid-19 as well as key points for negotiation to achieve a more progressive approach to cost saving. It sets a priority both on saving jobs and on preserving the long-term viability and prosperity of our university.

 PLEASE NOTE: we will hold an emergency Branch Meeting tomorrow,  Tuesday 7th July at 12-1pm to discuss these proposals and hear your views. We will send zoom details separately. In the meantime, please VOTE NO in the all staff poll.

 University of Kent UCU recognises that our university is facing a critical situation as a result of the shock from Covid-19 and that drastic actions need to be taken to see us through the next year. We contend, however, that the current pay freeze and revised pay reward proposals as designed, impose a discriminatory pay cut on low- and middle-income earners (that include larger numbers of younger, female and BAME staff). The negative impact of these proposals falls disproportionately upon the shoulders of those least able to bear them.

We are therefore calling on management to adopt a more progressive approach in which high income earners bear the greater burden of any extraordinary cost cutting/saving measures and for them to combine this with a greater commitment to ensuring the collective well-being of all the University’s employees. We also believe that it is possible to set more ambitious goals for these measures both in terms of saving targets and strategic planning.

We are calling on management to enter into negotiation with us over the following alternative proposals and allied conditions for a more constructive working relationship:

1) A More Progressive Scheme

We welcome the fact that the current proposals contain some progressive elements. Insofar as the Vice Chancellor is taking a 20% cut and the Executive Group a 15% cut, we understand them to acknowledge the principle that those on higher wages should bear more of the burden of any cost savings/cuts.  However, we call on them to embrace this principle more firmly and with greater ambition (e.g. identify possible ways to protect sole income earners in single parent households from the most adverse effects of cost cutting/saving plans). We have costed two possible methods of doing this with the aim of achieving a saving target of at least £5.3m with progressive cuts starting from either £50K or £40K in one year. These include:

a) A scheme that operates with a progressive sliding scale from 2% starting at 40K up to 30% for those on the highest salaries. This produces a saving of £5.3 million.

b) A scheme that offers a similar saving of £5.3 million, but with progressive cuts beginning from 50K (this would only involve those earning above the median academic wage)

2) A Pay Cap Scheme for Higher Earners

Strict pay caps should be adopted for the duration of this proposal (AY 20/21). This should apply to those in senior managerial positions. We recommend that the VC adheres to the Office for Students VC pay/reward guidelines – namely that her wage be no higher than that of the prime minister (c.£150,000) for the duration of any staff cost saving scheme. For the duration in which the University is required to implement extraordinary cost-saving/cutting measures, we advise that no staff member (apart from the VC) should be rewarded for their work with a salary in excess of £100,000.

3) Prioritising Job Saving

We welcome the fact that management have now indicated implicitly (by the threat of job losses if the proposals are not accepted) the number of jobs that can be saved by the current proposals. We call on them to set this as a priority, and henceforth, to provide us more detailed and explicit information on how any extraordinary cost cutting/saving measures are linked to saving staff from compulsory redundancy. The commitment to job saving needs to govern the rationale of managerial decisions and policy-making through this period. It also needs to feature in all related communications to staff on these matters. Insofar as it is widely recognised that more benign market conditions lie ahead and that demand for our courses is set to increase over the next 2-5 years, saving jobs is vital for our operational sustainability and prosperity. Saving jobs is essential for our long-term success.

4) A Commitment to Transparency and Panel Review

At each step of our negotiations, UCU has repeatedly called for transparency over facts and figures, once management has put proposals on the table. It is difficult to negotiate with one hand always tied behind our backs, especially during a crisis. We urge management to increase transparency from the first moment of negotiations. We call on management to provide UCU with more access to data relating to the university’s financial situation and cost cutting plans, including all the data provided by Data HE. We call on them to allow representatives from UCU to attend and make meaningful contributions to any panels that are set up to review the progress of the pay freeze scheme and any other measures (e.g. sale of land or buildings) that are being implemented as part of initiatives to restore the university to a financially health position.

5) A commitment to restitution and pension protection

We call on university management to commit to prioritising the recompensing of staff for loss of earnings and pension contributions stemming from these plans at a time when the University finances have recovered.

These are exceptionally difficult times for this university. In all our negotiations, our priority has been saving jobs, whilst at the same time, trying to ensure that any measures deemed necessary do not fall disproportionately on those least able to bear their brunt.

Sian, Owen, Philip, Mark

UCU Branch Officers

Pay Freeze and Reward Strategy

Dear UCU members,

We write with reference to the email sent by the Director of HR Alison Ross-Green to all staff today.

We are disappointed by both the tone and content of the email. It misrepresents our position by blaming UCU for the failure to agree to the Pay Freeze and the Reward Strategy. UCU has at all times sought to negotiate terms that will protect our members’ interests to the maximum possible extent and safeguard the interests of our university.

In respect of the All Staff ballot: we urge you to vote against both proposals, as recommended by the vote of our branch meeting last week.

The concessions that have been offered today do not go sufficiently far – the negative impact of the proposals fall disproportionately upon the shoulders of those least able to bear them.

UCU members have been communicating their concerns to us in very strong terms; as a result, we established a working group which has come up with alternative proposals, full details of which we will send to you all on Monday; they are:

  • more progressive – protecting those at the lower ends of the pay scales

  • can meet the need for cost savings  – between £5 and £6 million

We notice that management has indicated implicitly (by the threat of job losses if the proposals are not accepted) the number of jobs likely to be saved by the current proposals. It  is the first time we have been given this information. At each step of our negotiations, we have repeatedly called for transparency over facts and figures. It is difficult to negotiate with one hand tied behind our backs. We urge management to increase transparency going forward.

Please forward this information to other colleagues in your schools and departments.

Best

Sian, Owen, Philip and Mark

UCU Branch Officers

Consultation on what Kent HR call a new Reward Strategy

Dear members,
University management have begun consultation on a new Reward Strategy.
You will need your kent credentials to see it.
These proposals would change which points on the pay spine are used for many grades – changing starting points, maximum available via automatic progression and maximum available via discretionary increments. In many cases they will reduce future pay and are partly proposed as part of university cost-saving.
If you do not understand details of the proposals or want to ask questions about how they affect your contract, please direct questions to Human Resources.
If you would like to feed comments into the branch officers, please direct them to Owen.
Please note, if we receive the very large number of comments we anticipate we may not be able to reply to them all individually, but rest assured all will be read and taken into account.
best wishes
Owen and Branch Officers