USS update

The Vice-Chancellor has written to all staff about an update for the reform of USS:

Dear Colleague,

Last Friday, the University communications team let you know that Universities UK (UUK) and the University and College Union (UCU) want to establish a joint expert panel to consider the valuation of the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) and the assumptions and tests underpinning it – see the For Staff article here.

The intention is that this panel will include actuarial and academic experts and a jointly agreed independent Chair. In a separate note, I set out the University's carefully considered position on pay and 'action short of a strike'. I promised to provide a further update before the Easter break and do so now. Of course, I appreciate that not all staff are members of the USS but I believe that it is important to keep everyone up to date as this issue is having a fundamental impact on the University as a whole.

UUK has been consulting its membership about setting up the joint expert panel, and the UCU Higher Education Committee (HEC) met yesterday afternoon to discuss this. ACAS has also been assisting with this initiative. The current position – which may of course be subject to change in a fast-moving situation – is as follows.

The membership of UUK – including the University of Leeds – supports this proposal but this is conditional on the suspension of all industrial action, and the requirement for a joint approach by UUK and UCU to seek the support of the USS Trustee and the Pensions Regulator for this course of action. The first of these conditions will ensure that the interests of students are properly protected during the remaining teaching weeks and through the crucial period of assessments and examinations. The second recognises the statutory position of the USS Trustee and the Regulator and the safeguards they provide for scheme members. We should always remember in this discussion that the Trustee has a responsibility to protect the interests of all beneficiaries of the scheme and the Regulator is required to ensure that workplace pensions are secure and sustainable.

At the UCU HEC meeting, it was agreed that all union members will be consulted by way of ballot over this proposal which is aimed at rebuilding trust between the parties and resolving the current dispute. Regrettably – and, we believe, largely driven by new rules under the trade union act – UCU also served notice of strike action to begin on 16 April in 13 universities, including Leeds. This was described by the UCU General Secretary last night as "a fresh wave of industrial action aimed at targeting the last weeks of teaching and the assessment period". The possibility of extending strike action to all 65 universities in the dispute also remains. However, it is important to note that this is statutory advance notice of strike action – this does not mean that it has to go ahead.

As we move towards the Easter break, I hope that the national negotiators will work hard to reconcile these differences but that they might also take a step back to allow us all to think carefully about the current position. This is a complex issue which cannot be reduced to points scoring and sound bites on social media. The failure so far of either party (or both) to come up with a workable answer suggests that movement is required in both directions. The opportunity now is to settle the question of the valuation – the central issue in the dispute – based on a joint review of the evidence, to consider the alternatives for sharing risk between employers and scheme members, and to negotiate a settlement that is fair and just, and which will allow the Trustee and the Regulator to provide the safeguards we all need. The alternative is to risk damaging the lives and life chances of the current generation of students, an outcome which I am sure none of us can support.

I am personally committed to doing everything I can to bring this divisive dispute to an end and to return to our central mission of achieving excellence in student education and research. Whilst the possibility of further disruption to students remains, I also want to focus on the Senate's responsibility for academic governance and intend to call an extraordinary meeting in the week commencing 16 April to review important questions of academic standards and the award of degrees and other qualifications. I will also be exploring ways of ensuring that all USS members at Leeds are given a voice in these important discussions about their pensions.

Finally, I want to say a sincere 'thank you' to all staff in every corner of our community who have worked tirelessly throughout this difficult period to serve the best interests of students and the wider University. It is your dedication, hard work and commitment to students that will carry us through this difficult period and I hope that you can have a restful and restorative break over Easter. 

I will of course ensure that you receive any further relevant information when we return next week.

Best wishes,

Alan Langlands


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