20 January 2015

Open Letter to Time Higher on the USS Dispute

Dear Times Higher

We write as representatives of the Left on the Higher Education Committee and other UCU activists who are utterly opposed to any retreat from defending members’ pensions. We have carried out a careful critical analysis of the different proposals and are calling on members to reject the current USS offer which will lead to up to 20% cuts.

We believe that UCU is consulting members over accepting a retreat of historic proportions that will mean all our members pay more. Those in Final Salary (three quarters of active USS membership) will have their pension cut, and a great number of staff will be placed in the position where they cannot afford to retire. Although on first glance, the offer might appear to be a small improvement for new members currently on the (appalling) Career Revalued Benefits (CRB) Scheme introduced in 2011, in reality it is not.

If members vote No, we are threatened with the imposition of a different UUK proposal. Therefore we need to compare the two proposals.

Our assessment is that the trade-off of an increase of 1.5% employee contributions for a 6% benefit improvement is projected to be broadly cost-neutral to USS and the Employers. The UUK proposal has now been changed to have the same Defined Contribution ‘cap’ at £55,000, so the only difference between the proposal UCU is balloting over and the UUK proposal is whether USS members would wish to invest more in the CRB scheme.

Given a real choice, members in the CRB scheme would say they do not want to pay more. They want a better scheme with a better value for money, such as the current Final Salary scheme. Once inflation, the preference for money now rather than in the future, the fact that many CRB members will pay increased contributions for more years than they will receive pensions (and the likelihood of further reductions in the future) are taken into account, a 1.5% increase in contributions now will outweigh the projected 6% increase at some point in the future, and may make the scheme unaffordable for many low-paid members.

The second problem with both proposals is the introduction of a new Defined Contribution section with lower levels of employer investment (12% instead of 18%) and poorer projected benefits, which will be applied to all salary over £55,000 (with this amount updated at most by CPI). If pay rises increase above CPI as they have in the past then over time more staff will be drawn into this part of the scheme.

Finally, there is no good reason for these changes. The approach to the valuation has been extensively criticised and there is no real evidence of any need for cuts in benefits or increases in contributions.

We can still win, but to win, we need to be prepared to take hard-hitting industrial action. We call for members to vote against the proposals in the e-ballot, and pass motions through branches calling for rejection of the offer, support industrial action, and to call a special HE sector conference to determine our strategy to win this crucial dispute.

Marion Hersh, NEC member and USS national negotiator, University of Glasgow

Sean Wallis, NEC member, University College London

Ioanna Ioannou, NEC member, University College London

Prof Andreas Bieler, NEC member, University of Nottingham

Lesley McGorrigan, NEC member, University of Leeds

Karen Evans, NEC member, University of Liverpool

Lesley Kane, NEC member, Open University

Jo McNeill, NEC member, University of Liverpool

Saira Weiner, NEC member, Liverpool John Moores University (post-92)

Sue Abbott, NEC member, Northumbria University (post-92)

Patricia McManus, NEC member, University of Brighton (post-92)

Prof Paul Blackledge, NEC member, Leeds Beckett University (post-92)

Prof Dennis Leech, UCU President, Warwick University

Saladin Meckled-Garcia, UCU Vice President, University College London

Marian Mayer, UCU Chair, Bournemouth University

Rick Saull, UCU Branch Secretary, Queen Mary University of London

Caoimhe Mader McGuinness, UCU Anti-casualisation Rep, Queen Mary University of London

Prof Craig Brandist, UCU President, University of Sheffield.

Julie Hearn, UCU Membership Officer, University of Lancaster

Prof Steven French, UCU Executive member, University of Leeds

Andy Stafford, UCU Rep, University of Leeds

Gail Day, UCU Rep, University of Leeds

Johnny Darlington, UCU Branch Secretary, SOAS

James Eastwood, UCU GTA Representative, SOAS

Andrew Kennedy, UCU Executive member, SOAS

Rachel Cohen, UCU Executive member, City University London

Nalini Vittal, UCU Executive member, University College London

Martin Fry, UCU Executive member, University College London

Matthew Beaumont, UCU Rep, University College London

Bernie Maguire, UCU President, University of Salford

Helen Franks, UCU Branch Secretary, University of Salford

Christine Sheehy, UCU Northwest Regional Chair, University of Salford

Glyn Heath, UCU Northwest Regional Treasurer, University of Salford

Eleni Michalopoulou, UCU Vice President, University of Liverpool

Mark O’Brien, UCU Membership Secretary, University of Liverpool

Pam Clarke, UCU Executive member, University of Liverpool

David Stewart, UCU Executive member, University of Liverpool

Alex Lancaster, UCU Equality Officer, University of Liverpool

Prof Des Freedman, UCU Branch Secretary, Goldsmiths University London

Carlo Morelli, UCU Vice President, University of Dundee

Peter Woodward, UCU Executive member, Imperial College London

Roddy Slorach, UCU Equality Officer, Imperial College London

Steve Roskams, UCU Rep, University of York

Mike Arrowsmith, UCU Membership Officer, University of St Andrews

Jim Wolfreys, UCU President, Kings College London

Andy Scally, UCU Executive member, University of Bradford

Helen MacCarthy, UCU Branch Secretary, University of Hull

Hedley Bashforth, UCU Branch Secretary, University of Bath

Jonathan Charley, UCU President, University of Strathclyde

Paul-Francois Tremlett, UCU Rep, Open University

Geoff Abbott, Newcastle University

Sara Maioli, Newcastle University

Prof Malcolm Povey, University of Leeds

Prof Raymond Bush, University of Leeds

Prof Catherine E. Karkov, University of Leeds

Nick Thurston, University of Leeds

Prof Alex Callinicos, Kings College London

Prof David Treece, Kings College London

Prof Susanne Kord, University College London

Gabriel Moshenska, University College London

Rory Fitzgerald, City University London

Lee Jones, Queen Mary University of London

Elmy Thompson, Imperial College London

Ciara Kierans, Liverpool University

Feyzi Ismail, SOAS

Paul O’Connell, SOAS

Chris Gutkind, SOAS

Mark Laffey, SOAS

Kristin Surak, SOAS

Thomas Marois, SOAS

Fujiko Kobayashi, SOAS

Seán Doyle, UCL Institute of Education

Anne Alexander, University of Cambridge

Prof Richard Farndale, University of Cambridge

Peter Dwyer, Ruskin College, Oxford

John G Walker, Ruskin College, Oxford

Prof James Newell, University of Salford

Prof Allison Drew, University of York

Daragh O’Reilly, University of Sheffield

Celia Hollingworth, University of Bristol

Andy Coles, University of Manchester

Wendy Olsen, University of Manchester

John Costello, University of Manchester

Davidson Chademana, University of Dundee

Gerry Mooney, Open University

Prof Suman Gupta, Open University

Prof Steve Edwards, Open University

Bruce Heil, Open University

Alison Higgs, Open University

Anne Martin, Open University

Paula James, Open University

Chris A. Williams, Open University

Paul Brook, University of Leicester

Xanthe Whittaker, University of Leicester

John Parrington, University of Oxford

Kathryn Cruz, Keele University

Fabienne Emmerich, Keele University

Bahadur Najak, University of Durham

Matteo Mandarini, Queen Mary University of London

Vivian Vignoles, University of Sussex

Nick Till, University of Sussex

Álvaro Martínez-Pérez, University of Sheffield

Ken Willis, University of Liverpool

Cliff Snaith, UCU London Region Secretary, London Metropolitan University (post-92)

Mark Campbell, UCU Chair, London Metropolitan University (post-92)

David Hardman, UCU Membership Officer, London Metropolitan University (post-92)

Richard Payne, UCU Executive member, London Metropolitan University (post-92)

Steve Mardy, UCU Chair (City Campus), Leeds Beckett University (post-92)

Mark Abel, Chair UCU Coordinating Committee, University of Brighton (post-92)

Adrian Budd, UCU Branch Secretary, London South Bank University (post-92)

Prof Tom Hickey, University of Brighton (post-92)

Prof Raphael Salkie, University of Brighton (post-92)

Robin Dunford, University of Brighton (post-92)

Jenny Robertson, University of Brighton (post-92)

Nicolas Van Labeke, Glasgow School of Art (post-92; a 13-year USS member unable to vote)

Jon Berry, University of Hertfordshire (post-92)

Prof Jonathan Davies, De Montford University, Leicester (post-92)

Sean Vernell, UCU Coordinating Committee Secretary, City and Islington College (FE)

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