The University and College Union (UCU) has announced that staff at 150 universities across the UK will strike for 18 days between February and March in disputes over pay, conditions and on USS pensions. We understand that the precise dates of the action will be confirmed next week.
Our statement for media:
A spokesperson for Universities UK, on behalf of USS employers said:
“It is disappointing that UCU is planning more strike action. However, we expect disruption to again be limited in most universities, and will continue to work towards an agreement, as far as it is possible to do so, in the interests of all our staff. Meanwhile universities’ top priority will be to protect student interests and ensure they can continue with their education. To keep this in context, only around one in ten of those in the USS pension scheme voted to take strike action.
“Industrial action already faced in recent years means universities are well prepared to manage pockets of disruption and will work hard to put in place a series of measures to ensure students do not miss out on the opportunity to learn.
“We share the goal of a secure, valuable, and affordable retirement income for university staff – it is only through their work that universities are able to carry out their world-leading teaching and research. We continue to meet regularly with union and USS representatives and are already working with UCU ahead of the next valuation which is due to start in March.
“It is important to remember that USS pensions remain among the most generous in the private sector. Employer payments have risen to 21.6% of salary, which is far higher than most other schemes.”
The current highly volatile economic climate has meant that the USS Trustee insists it is unable to establish a long-term view of its funding position, or revise its prices, ahead of the next valuation in March 2023.
A joint Valuation Technical Forum comprising UCU and UUK representatives has been established to assess how the next valuation should be carried out. Ultimately, the decision on the valuation methodology rests with the USS Trustee. UUK can express a view on how this is carried out.
The USS Trustee consists of 3 directors nominated by the University and College Union, 4 by Universities UK, and 5 independent directors.
In recent weeks, we have worked jointly with the USS Trustee to produce an accelerated valuation timeline, and we hope this will allow us to see sustained improvements in funding. At that point we will want to work with UCU to agree any changes as quickly as possible.
Work underway working with the UCU ahead of the next valuation includes sending a joint statement to the Department of Work and Pensions on pension regulation, establishing a technical group on valuation methodology, and on low-cost options for employees who want more flexible pension contributions, and scheme redesign.
The necessary benefit changes implemented in April 2022 have helped to put the scheme on a more sustainable footing. Without the changes in April, staff would be paying much higher contributions during a cost-of-living crisis – from October 2022, a USS member earning £40,000 a year would have had to pay an extra £800 a year (11.8% of salary, up from the current level of 9.8%, rising to 12.5% in April 2023). All USS employers would have had to make severe budget cuts to find ways of paying 25.2% of salary in contributions, an increase of 3.6%, rising to 26.5% in April 2023.
The USS employer contribution rose to 21.6% of salary in April 2022 which is three times higher than the average employer contribution rate among the FTSE 250 companies, p11, WTW Defined Contribution and Savings Survey, 2022.