On 30 November, the Vice-Chancellor sent a message to staff at Cardiff University in which he discussed the dispute between UCU and universities that subscribe to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS).
The reason for the dispute is not a lack of money in the scheme, but the way that the scheme has been valued. No-one is asking for more money to be put into the USS scheme: it earns sufficient to be generally self-sustaining each year. The problem lies in the overly prudent methodology used to compare the assets of USS against future out goings which results in a perceived deficit whereas USS accounts show that over the last couple of years the value of the fund has actually gone up due to the actual returns on investments. (See Dennis Leech, Emeritus Professor of Economics at the University of Warwick in his blog post http://blogs.warwick.ac.uk/dennisleech/entry/is_the_uss_1_2/). The proposals in response could see the value of your retirement income drop by as much as £200,000.
Yes, life expectancy has risen since the scheme was established in the 1970s, but it hasn’t risen significantly in the last three years since the scheme was last changed.
Let us also dispense with the idea that paying staff salaries (and pensions are a part of our salaries) is at the expense of students’ education. There will be no education for students unless someone teaches them. The Cardiff UCU branch believes that a well-remunerated and financially secure staff is a necessity for good education. It is also, indeed, the University’s mission to recruit and retain the best staff and we assert that pay and benefits are one of the crucial ways in which to achieve this goal.
Certainly there are questions about the allocation of resources within universities. Much of the recent press coverage of Higher Education has focused on the salaries of senior staff (see, for example Aditya Chakrabortty’s article in The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/nov/28/fat-cats-britains-universities-vice-chancellors-salaries-pay) The availability of funds for new buildings is also conspicuous. However, let’s stick to the urgent issue for now, which is that our pensions are under attack.
We accept that pensions are complicated and need experts to understand them and to make decisions about how they are managed. Understanding complex ideas and challenging them when necessary is, we hope, the essence of what our staff (and students) do. UCU’s position is based on the opinion of experts.
Universities UK’s recommendations are based on a pro-cautiousness position that is very much in line with the fiscal line adopted in the budget. Roger Bootle’s comments on the over-cautiousness of the Office for Budget Responsibility are interesting in this regard: in this podcast, he foresees the possibility of the treasury potentially being awash with money rather than strapped for cash: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/w172vth57nvgcvt
We have not yet seen a copy of our Vice-Chancellor’s response to UUK’s valuation. We hope that it will be in line with the position adopted by the Vice-Chancellor at Warwick University, which he sets out in this blog post: http://blogs.warwick.ac.uk/execteam/entry/which_way_forward/
Nobody wants to go on strike. We believe that we have no choice. The reason that UCU is asking its members to take action is summarised in this statement on behalf of the UCU National Executive Committee:
For more information on the dispute, including UCU’s commissioned report on the real cost to members, and a comparison with the government-backed Teachers’ Pension Scheme (TPS), see the UCU main website here: https://www.ucu.org.uk/strikeforuss