All posts by Collette Maxfield

Brexit Meeting: Candidate Letter

Following our Brexit Meeting  on  Wednesday 10th May, we have sent the finalised Brexit letter below to the following General Election candidates requesting a response. We will publish responses here as they are received (please click on the candidates name if hyperlinked):

Candidates standing in Guildford:

Candidates standing in Surrey South West:

 

26th May 2017

 

Dear xxx,

We are writing to you as a prospective Member of Parliament for the Guildford constituency. In this letter, we would like to express a consensus regarding the impact of Brexit on higher education. We ask you to join us in supporting your local university, the University of Surrey, in protecting freedom of movement for both students and staff. We ask you to campaign for the right to remain for those working or studying in the higher education sector.

Currently, official net migration figures include international students. This inflates the apparent number of immigrants, thereby stoking the anti-migrant atmosphere that has emerged in the current political climate.

Our international students make substantial contributions to our University, such as the diversity they inject into the teaching and learning environment we have on campus.

The surveillance of international students to ensure visa-compliance has been delegated to University staff. In addition to its troublingly xenophobic implications, such immigration policing diverts valuable time and attention away from providing education. A candidate who is forthcoming in, not just refraining, but actively challenging xenophobic rhetoric would unquestionably win favour with the thousands of people we represent.

To protect the interests of those students who have come to the University from elsewhere in the EU, we advocate guaranteed, home-rate tuition fees and a reciprocal open approach, including visa-free access.

There have been reports of universities losing academic expertise in the wake of Brexit. While affected by consequences of the UK parliament, EU Nationals are not permitted the franchise. With neither the franchise nor the guaranteed right to stay, it is easy to understand why many feel uncomfortable working and studying in Britain.

International expertise at Surrey allows students to learn from the best in their fields, while exposure to a diverse body of students allows staff members and postgraduate teaching assistants to hone their communicative skills and introduces them to different perspectives on their taught subjects.

As well as ensuring that the University continues to benefit from international talent, it is imperative that the University remains able to secure research funding in the absence of the research programmes we enjoy because of existing EU sources. Such EU programmes as Erasmus+ provide financial support for our students and staff to study, train, work, or volunteer abroad.

A decline in EU teaching staff is especially concerning in light of the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) being introduced by the Government. This is because such a decline will almost certainly lead to further reliance upon casualised contracts. Given how far teaching workloads exceed any basic hourly metric, any increase in such insecure employment conditions would place even greater strain upon academic staff, to the detriment of teaching, research, and studying alike.

Lastly, both domestic and international workers at the University should retain the current levels of protection they enjoy under EU law, such as those relating to working time, parental leave, and health and safety.

We therefore ask you to reply and add your support to the following seven propositions:

  1.     The removal of international students from official net migration figures.
  2. The guaranteed continuation of home-rate tuition fees and visa-free access for EU students as part of a reciprocal agreement.
  3. The guaranteed right to stay for EU staff and students who currently reside or study in the UK, with freedom of movement unrestricted for those who come to work or study from the EU.
  4. Extending the franchise to EU nationals residing in Britain to vote in National Elections.
  5. The securing of alternative sources of university funding other than raised tuition fees.
  6. The continued support of Erasmus+ and other EU research funding.
  7. The continued protection of the employment rights currently provided by EU law.

Please be advised that your reply will be publicised alongside those from the other election candidates. We ask you to kindly respond by the 2nd June 2017 in order for us to circulate candidate responses.

 

Yours sincerely

 

Surrey UCU Committee

Surrey Unite Committee

Surrey Unison Committee

University of Surrey Post-Brexit Meeting

Dear Members,

We invite you to our next event: Post-Brexit Meeting, Wednesday 10th May 15:00, LTE.

Our UCU Branch Secretary, Dan Davison-Vecchione, will be chairing the meeting.

All staff and students at University of Surrey are warmly welcome to attend this event.

This event is designed to bring together the staff and students at University of Surrey who may have worries related to Brexit and its implications. There will be an opportunity for open discussion for all those attending, as well as an exploration into potential joint action to support the EU staff and students that are part of the University of Surrey community.

Speakers include:

Professor Vince Emery, University of Surrey Senior Vice-President

Douglas Chalmers, UCU Vice-President elect / UCU President of Scotland

Tai Ademola, University of Surrey SU Vice-President

Neil Jones, Unison Branch Chair, University of Surrey

 

 

 

Facilities Time and Surrey UCU

Dear Members,
Some of you may be aware of changes that have arisen in accordance with the recent Trade Union Act, in particular the reporting of Facilities Time.
Facility time is time off from an individual’s job, granted by the employer, to enable a workplace representative to carry out their trade union role.  It can also mean an employer allows a rep to carry out trade union duties and activities, instead of their substantive job, for a certain amount of time per week or month. As a rep you are entitled to reasonable paid time off and facilities to undertake union duties and attend Union training.
 
Currently, our committee does not take its full allowance of Facilities Time, officers choosing instead to volunteer their time. The committee works very hard to cover all areas that effect UCU members, including revising policies and procedures, attending JNCC meetings with the University Senior Management, as well as attending policy sub-groups. The committee also advises many members simultaneously as well as representing members at meetings.
If you were able to volunteer as a committee member in the future, please do remember that Facilities Time would be available to you, and we would be happy for you to use it. 
Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions.
Kind regards
Colette            
Branch Administrator

cmaxfield@ucu.org.uk
 

Open letter from Surrey UCU Pensions Rep to Professor G Q Max Lu re USS

170307 Professor G Q Max Lu UCU Pensions Representative’s response to USS consultation document

UCU Pensions Representative’s response to USS consultation document

Andrew Mason UCU Pensions Representative
Surrey University
Professor G Q Max Lu
President and Vice-Chancellor

Dear Professor Lu,

I am writing to you as the Pensions Representative for UCU at Surrey University. I know that you were not in the U.K. at the time of the 2014 USS pensions’ revaluation and subsequent downgrading of employee benefits when the scheme moved from a long-established Final Salary Defined Benefit Scheme to the current hybrid scheme which comprises the old final salary scheme, a CRB defined benefit scheme and a defined contribution scheme. In addition to the complexities of having three pension schemes where there once was one there was universal agreement amongst employees who are members of the USS scheme that our benefits and our conditions of employment had been downgraded.

Part of the problem with the last valuation was the methodology, the so-called ‘gilts-plus’ methodology which suggested that the scheme was in a substantial deficit and required extra contributions from the universities and members. This methodology was criticised in many quarters and may not be the most appropriate method of valuing the scheme, particularly at a time of unprecedentedly low interest rates in the wake of massive quantitative easing. It also may not be the most appropriate scheme for a fund which has strong cash flow and a substantial exposure to other asset classes, including the very large exposure to equities. As a former senior investment manager who worked for USS I was astonished at the outcome of the valuation and still find it difficult to believe.
I would however like to reflect the views of the Surrey Branch of UCU, fellow pension representatives at other UK universities and those of UCU and their actuary First Actuarial as an input to the upcoming employer consultation “USS Consultation Document on Methodology and Inputs for the 2017 Valuation” that closes on the 17th of March.

As employees of the university and members of the scheme we are deeply concerned that this flawed methodology is being employed again by the USS Actuaries and also that there may be an underlying shift towards defined contributions even though the current defined contributions component of the scheme has not bedded in. Nor does it provide sufficient information on the underlying investments for scheme members to make an informed choice. The USS pension scheme has been seen as an attractive part of a University remuneration package where salaries have been stagnant and administrative burdens have increased. We all fear another demoralising and unnecessary drive to reduce pension benefits which in the longer term may prove to be detrimental to the recruitment and retention of university staff.

To the best of my understanding there is a wish by the employers association (UUK) to ensure that over the time horizon of the Employers Covenant the contingent reliance on the employers does not increase in inflation adjusted terms.

This reliance on the employers covenant is a residual figure based on an estimate of future liabilities and future assets (and other factors such as demographics of the workforce which are not relevant
UCU Pensions Representative’s response to USS consultation document to this discussion). The size of this shortfall or residual is totally driven by the underlying assumptions primarily the discount rate which is used to discount assets and liabilities and the assumed rate of return. When interest rates (discount rates) are so low, a very small change in the assumed discount rate or rate of return will have   large effect on the final outcome. There also may be a move to derisking – a shift from equities (risk & return bearing assets) into bonds (assumed to be a lower risk lower return asset). The timing of such derisking could have a significant impact on the fund as we have experienced an unprecedented period of very low interest rates (very high bond prices) and it would be disingenuous to assume that a major correction in this asset class may not occur over the timescale of the employers’ covenant. Thus a prudent strategy, which is not necessary for a cash flow positive fund, may hold significant implementation risk.

I apologise for the technical nature of the rest of the letter which is based on discussions of the proposals which have taken place at other forums but which outline some key issues in the current
debate. I have attached First Actuarial’s (UCU’s actuary) document released in Dec 2016 given which argues that given how expensive it now is to generate income from gilts that a significantly greater
weighting of a self-sufficiency portfolio toward equity than gilts plus 0.5% would be a more efficient means of delivering self-sufficiency. We also believe that USS’s best estimate of returns on equity
must be assuming very modest real dividend growth, much lower it is than First Actuarial’s best estimate, which assumes 1% real growth over RPI. I would also like to draw your attention to the updated cash flow projection chart from First Actuarial, (PDF attached) which suggests that, as a result of the recent cuts to employees DB pensions, the scheme will remain in positive cash flow for the next 60 years. For reasons which are mentioned below in numbered excerpts from First Actuarial’s submission to the 2014 valuation, such positive cash flow greatly diminishes the risk of remaining invested in return-seeking assets such as equity.
I have also attached Aon Hewitt’s UUK’s submission for the 2014 valuation, as a means of avoiding needlessly layering prudence upon prudence. Such flexibility still involves a commitment to a substantial level of prudence which is inherent in USS’s Test 1 which relates to the technical provisions the reliance on the employers’ covenant.

The following points have been made by UCU, their actuaries and Pension representatives from various universities:
i. While the net cash flow is positive, there is no need to sell any assets and therefore no disinvestment risk to the USS. Low market prices are beneficial during this {…} period of positive net cash flow [because assets are being purchased more cheaply], so a measure of risk which suggests a market fall is a problem would be giving a wrong message.
ii. While there is no requirement to sell assets, volatility from market value fluctuations is not a concern for the USS: the main concern is the volatility in asset income. Measures of risk and funding level which are market value sensitive, as opposed to asset income sensitive, are likely to be inappropriate in this context and should be given little attention.
i. In the >99% likely scenario of USS continuing as an open scheme sponsored by employers
with a robust covenant, the issue of very high relevance is the rate of growth of asset
income. Income uncertainty, not market value volatility, is the key issue for the scheme.
UCU Pensions Representative’s response to USS consultation document

As we can see, moreover, from graphs such as the following, dividend income from equity is much more predictable and less volatile than the asset price:
So long, therefore, as the scheme is valued in a manner that is sensitive to these more modest fluctuations in investment income rather than the greater volatility of asset prices, it seems unlikely that an in extremis scenario would emerge in which a funding shortfall becomes so great that employer contributions would need to rise to the level of 25%. First Actuarial has proposed an Internal Rate of Return (IRR) method of valuing the scheme that tracks changes in income rather than prices. See p. 7 of the attached document prepared by First Actuarial for some modelling of this approach, as applied to USS.

During communications with other Pensions Representatives it seems that not all employers/Universities accept the USS view of the world and the potential impact for employers and employees contributions. We urge you to get further clarification and supporting evidence from USS with regard to the level of risk and some explanation for their adherence to a possibly flawed valuation methodology. We feel that the case outlined above, maintaining contributions and benefits at least until 2020, provides a sensible and prudent means of sustaining our current defined benefit scheme and should not be rejected on the grounds that it may, under extreme circumstances, expose employers to further risk.

I look forward to hearing from you

Yours Faithfully
Andrew Mason

Ps This is an open letter which will be distributed to all members of the UCU Surrey Branch and I trust you will not object to your response being distributed to members
Attachments:
Aon Hewitt UUK 2 Dec 2014 response to AV consultation
uss_firstactuarial_2017valuationinput_reportforucu
First Actuarial’s USS 2017.03.01 cash flows
UCU Pensions Representative’s response to USS consultation document

Open letter from Surrey UCU Pensions Rep to Professor G Q Max Lu re USS

170307 Professor G Q Max Lu UCU Pensions Representative’s response to USS consultation document

UCU Pensions Representative’s response to USS consultation document

Andrew Mason UCU Pensions Representative
Surrey University
Professor G Q Max Lu
President and Vice-Chancellor

Dear Professor Lu,

I am writing to you as the Pensions Representative for UCU at Surrey University. I know that you were not in the U.K. at the time of the 2014 USS pensions’ revaluation and subsequent downgrading of employee benefits when the scheme moved from a long-established Final Salary Defined Benefit Scheme to the current hybrid scheme which comprises the old final salary scheme, a CRB defined benefit scheme and a defined contribution scheme. In addition to the complexities of having three pension schemes where there once was one there was universal agreement amongst employees who are members of the USS scheme that our benefits and our conditions of employment had been downgraded.

Part of the problem with the last valuation was the methodology, the so-called ‘gilts-plus’ methodology which suggested that the scheme was in a substantial deficit and required extra contributions from the universities and members. This methodology was criticised in many quarters and may not be the most appropriate method of valuing the scheme, particularly at a time of unprecedentedly low interest rates in the wake of massive quantitative easing. It also may not be the most appropriate scheme for a fund which has strong cash flow and a substantial exposure to other asset classes, including the very large exposure to equities. As a former senior investment manager who worked for USS I was astonished at the outcome of the valuation and still find it difficult to believe.
I would however like to reflect the views of the Surrey Branch of UCU, fellow pension representatives at other UK universities and those of UCU and their actuary First Actuarial as an input to the upcoming employer consultation “USS Consultation Document on Methodology and Inputs for the 2017 Valuation” that closes on the 17th of March.

As employees of the university and members of the scheme we are deeply concerned that this flawed methodology is being employed again by the USS Actuaries and also that there may be an underlying shift towards defined contributions even though the current defined contributions component of the scheme has not bedded in. Nor does it provide sufficient information on the underlying investments for scheme members to make an informed choice. The USS pension scheme has been seen as an attractive part of a University remuneration package where salaries have been stagnant and administrative burdens have increased. We all fear another demoralising and unnecessary drive to reduce pension benefits which in the longer term may prove to be detrimental to the recruitment and retention of university staff.

To the best of my understanding there is a wish by the employers association (UUK) to ensure that over the time horizon of the Employers Covenant the contingent reliance on the employers does not increase in inflation adjusted terms.

This reliance on the employers covenant is a residual figure based on an estimate of future liabilities and future assets (and other factors such as demographics of the workforce which are not relevant
UCU Pensions Representative’s response to USS consultation document to this discussion). The size of this shortfall or residual is totally driven by the underlying assumptions primarily the discount rate which is used to discount assets and liabilities and the assumed rate of return. When interest rates (discount rates) are so low, a very small change in the assumed discount rate or rate of return will have   large effect on the final outcome. There also may be a move to derisking – a shift from equities (risk & return bearing assets) into bonds (assumed to be a lower risk lower return asset). The timing of such derisking could have a significant impact on the fund as we have experienced an unprecedented period of very low interest rates (very high bond prices) and it would be disingenuous to assume that a major correction in this asset class may not occur over the timescale of the employers’ covenant. Thus a prudent strategy, which is not necessary for a cash flow positive fund, may hold significant implementation risk.

I apologise for the technical nature of the rest of the letter which is based on discussions of the proposals which have taken place at other forums but which outline some key issues in the current
debate. I have attached First Actuarial’s (UCU’s actuary) document released in Dec 2016 given which argues that given how expensive it now is to generate income from gilts that a significantly greater
weighting of a self-sufficiency portfolio toward equity than gilts plus 0.5% would be a more efficient means of delivering self-sufficiency. We also believe that USS’s best estimate of returns on equity
must be assuming very modest real dividend growth, much lower it is than First Actuarial’s best estimate, which assumes 1% real growth over RPI. I would also like to draw your attention to the updated cash flow projection chart from First Actuarial, (PDF attached) which suggests that, as a result of the recent cuts to employees DB pensions, the scheme will remain in positive cash flow for the next 60 years. For reasons which are mentioned below in numbered excerpts from First Actuarial’s submission to the 2014 valuation, such positive cash flow greatly diminishes the risk of remaining invested in return-seeking assets such as equity.
I have also attached Aon Hewitt’s UUK’s submission for the 2014 valuation, as a means of avoiding needlessly layering prudence upon prudence. Such flexibility still involves a commitment to a substantial level of prudence which is inherent in USS’s Test 1 which relates to the technical provisions the reliance on the employers’ covenant.

The following points have been made by UCU, their actuaries and Pension representatives from various universities:
i. While the net cash flow is positive, there is no need to sell any assets and therefore no disinvestment risk to the USS. Low market prices are beneficial during this {…} period of positive net cash flow [because assets are being purchased more cheaply], so a measure of risk which suggests a market fall is a problem would be giving a wrong message.
ii. While there is no requirement to sell assets, volatility from market value fluctuations is not a concern for the USS: the main concern is the volatility in asset income. Measures of risk and funding level which are market value sensitive, as opposed to asset income sensitive, are likely to be inappropriate in this context and should be given little attention.
i. In the >99% likely scenario of USS continuing as an open scheme sponsored by employers
with a robust covenant, the issue of very high relevance is the rate of growth of asset
income. Income uncertainty, not market value volatility, is the key issue for the scheme.
UCU Pensions Representative’s response to USS consultation document

As we can see, moreover, from graphs such as the following, dividend income from equity is much more predictable and less volatile than the asset price:
So long, therefore, as the scheme is valued in a manner that is sensitive to these more modest fluctuations in investment income rather than the greater volatility of asset prices, it seems unlikely that an in extremis scenario would emerge in which a funding shortfall becomes so great that employer contributions would need to rise to the level of 25%. First Actuarial has proposed an Internal Rate of Return (IRR) method of valuing the scheme that tracks changes in income rather than prices. See p. 7 of the attached document prepared by First Actuarial for some modelling of this approach, as applied to USS.

During communications with other Pensions Representatives it seems that not all employers/Universities accept the USS view of the world and the potential impact for employers and employees contributions. We urge you to get further clarification and supporting evidence from USS with regard to the level of risk and some explanation for their adherence to a possibly flawed valuation methodology. We feel that the case outlined above, maintaining contributions and benefits at least until 2020, provides a sensible and prudent means of sustaining our current defined benefit scheme and should not be rejected on the grounds that it may, under extreme circumstances, expose employers to further risk.

I look forward to hearing from you

Yours Faithfully
Andrew Mason

Ps This is an open letter which will be distributed to all members of the UCU Surrey Branch and I trust you will not object to your response being distributed to members
Attachments:
Aon Hewitt UUK 2 Dec 2014 response to AV consultation
uss_firstactuarial_2017valuationinput_reportforucu
First Actuarial’s USS 2017.03.01 cash flows
UCU Pensions Representative’s response to USS consultation document

Surrey UCU Committee Member, Professor Nigel Gilbert, receives CBE from The Prince of Wales

On Friday 10 February, Professor Nigel Gilbert, founder and director of Surrey’s Centre for Research in Social Simulation, received a CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire) for services to engineering and the social sciences.

The distinguished academic, who is an expert in computational social science, social simulation and sociological methods of research and statistics, joined Surrey as a Lecturer in 1976, before becoming a professor in the Department of Sociology in 1991.

Professor Gilbert pioneered the development of computer programs to help people work out their entitlement to benefits, as now routinely used by advice services. He was also one of the first, with Surrey’s Professor Sara Arber, to use computer files of survey data collected by the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys, a data source that has now become commonplace in sociology.

Speaking about his CBE, Nigel said: “It is a tremendous honour to receive this prestigious award.  I feel very fortunate to be involved in work that I feel so passionate about, and am truly grateful to all my friends and colleagues for supporting me.”

‘Representing Yourself’ Training Session

We have organised a ‘Representing Yourself’ training session for all members here at Surrey, facilitated by our UCU Regional Official. This session will help members learn effective strategies for dealing with difficult circumstances at work. The emphasis will be on resolving issues quickly and at the early stages.

Areas of focus will include:

Dealing with appraisal meetings
Dealing with intimidating behaviour at work
Being called as a witness at work
Negotiating flexible working
Applying for a promotion
How to submit an appeal

Details of the session:
Day: Wednesday
Week(s) : 14 
Date(s) : 07-12-2016  
Start Time : 10:00 
Finishing Time : 12:30 
Room : 03 DK 02
 
Please contact the Surrey UCU Branch Administrator if you would like to attend: cmaxfield@ucu.org.uk

University of Surrey UCU AGM 2016

Dear Members,

We have now finalised the details of the upcoming UCU AGM.

Date: Wednesday 2nd November

Time: 12:00 – 14:00

Location: Room LTM

If anyone would like to step forward and discuss the roles available on the UCU Committee then please get in touch to discuss. Nomination forms for Committee roles are also available by emailing cmaxfield@ucu.org.uk

We hope to see you all at the AGM to discuss the challenges and successes that UCU has experienced over the last academic year. The Committee will also be keen to gain feedback from members as to the future priorities and focus of the Branch. Your opinion is important and will be considered.

Please do not hesitate to get in contact with any questions.

Surrey UCU Branch Administrator cmaxfield@ucu.org.uk