Let's talk | A message from the Vice-Chancellor

Email from Vice-Chancellor, Professor Simone Buitendijk, to all staff on Friday 4 March 2022.

Dear colleagues, 

Now that strike action is over I hope we can find time to have an open, respectful conversation about the USS pensions issue. I am planning a series of town hall meetings in the next few weeks to do exactly that.

I have tried to listen and observe in the last few weeks and months, and my impression is that there is a lot of anxiety among colleagues about their pensions. I have recently received many emails and letters from people pleading with me to back the UCU proposal, some very angry, some more calm and measured.

I want to be clear – the University Council and I back the UUK option as the best one available at the current time and I would like to explain why we did. I think there is so much misinformation that instils fear, that the factual information that I and colleagues in leadership have provided so far no longer suffices. Hence the new town hall meetings.

The town hall meetings I held in 2021, to explain the workings of the pension fund, the national players and the local degrees of freedom deserve a follow up. And the situation has evolved since then, and the 2020 valuation is now almost concluded.

I want to use the new meetings to explain why I believe it would be irresponsible leadership to not back the UUK proposals, and what it would mean for the University’s finances as well as those of individual scheme members if the University had not done that. I would like to take the time to explain that, in my opinion, the UUK proposal is the best place holder available, since it keeps contributions for employees level for now, which means there is no immediate effect of the pensions scheme on colleagues’ pay in these difficult times.

In the meetings I will also try explain why the higher education community needs this place holder period to start focusing with urgency on the (near) future, so we don’t have to keep going through frequent cycles of industrial action. A new valuation will legally have to take place in 2023. It is highly likely that whatever the outcome of the 2023 valuation, changes in benefits will be needed to ensure affordability, sustainability and equity for the future. I firmly believe that it is possible to change the scheme in such a way during the next few years that all colleagues, young and old, can feel secure about their retirement.

I would like to discuss that in the national Joint Negotiating Committee three work streams are under way to look at flexible and lower cost options, reform of the scheme’s governance, and changes in benefits. I believe it is imperative that we all, employers and employees, start focusing on the needed changes to create less volatility and reduce fear, anxiety and uncertainty.

I hope I can explain in the meetings that there are no easy solutions at present – otherwise we would all embrace them. I would also like to discuss the University finances and how we spend our money, a joint issue for the entire community. We have to make choices, and they are not mine to make by myself.

And finally, we need to talk about our feelings and emotions. The present issues are not only pensions related, but also about how staff can feel more appreciated and secure in their work. I hope you know that I am committed to bringing positive change to the University. Our A Fairer Future for All campaign includes a set of concrete measures that will be implemented in the years to come. One of the pillars is moving away from fixed term contracts. I would like to use the town hall meetings to assure you that I am firmly committed to changing the culture at the University of Leeds so we can all be happier and healthier.

These town hall meetings will be supported by further advice and support for colleagues from independent pensions experts. We will say more about that soon, as well.

I cannot do this alone. Only when we are a strong, committed community can we be happy as individuals and the best version of ourselves as an institution.

The dates will shortly be communicated. At present I am planning three meetings, and we can always have more if needs be. I sincerely hope you will join me.

With best wishes,
Professor Simone Buitendijk 
Vice-Chancellor, University of Leeds