Category Archives: STAGgering

STAGgering is the blog of the Surrey branch of the UCU. It aims to provide a critical but fair perspective on the University and its activities.

Your USS vote and TU legislation

You should be receiving your ballot paper later this week.

We understand that there is a large amount of technical language involved with the current UUK offer on USS but at heart this is a very simple dispute: the offer on the table at the moment is detrimental and the only way to change the terms of the offer is if members are prepared to take action.

Due to recent changes in Trade Union legislation we need a 50% turn out at this Branch in order to take any form of action. We are at the point where every vote really does matter.

It is unusual for University managers to communicate with members about potential trade union action during a ballot, as this could be interpreted as trying to influence the vote, but if you receive any communications that you are uncertain of please get in contact.

As we regard changes to pensions as an exceptionally serious issue, members are encouraged to ring the TU office on 01483 68 2323. We will be putting aside an hour every Friday, between 10:30 – 11:30, to discuss the UUK offer with members. More technical queries will be forwarded to our National Pensions Official, and we are currently collecting FAQs for her to answer. Please email these queries to:

Surrey UCU is committed to keeping members informed every step of the way, please do not hesitate to get in contact if you are unsure of anything.

UUK proposal on USS in a nutshell

We are aware that recent proposed changes to the USS Pension may be difficult to digest. Our National Pensions Official visited our Branch last Friday and plainly outlined some of the issues. You will also have received an all-staff communication from the University today on the current UUK proposal:

UUK proposed that for future service the current hybrid scheme salary threshold will be modified so that there is no further defined benefit accrual. Instead, it is proposed that there will be a “market-leading” defined contributions scheme (through the USS Investment Builder) for all members.

To be very plain, the employer offer currently on the table is to move USS from a defined benefits scheme (determined and guaranteed by your ‘career average’ earnings) to a defined contribution scheme (where your money is no longer guaranteed, but dependent on the stock market investments at the point at which you retire). This means that the employers are intending to move all risk on to you as an employee.

We will also be collating and anonymising your USS related questions for our National Pensions Official to answer, so please forward any queries that you may have to:

UCU will be balloting formally on this issue very shortly, please read UCU updates as they arrive so that you are prepared and informed. Surrey UCU will keep you as up to date as possible.

Result of ‘Defend pensions’ ballot of USS members. October 2017

Message from Sally Hunt:
I wanted to let you know about the result of the ballot.
86.6% of members who voted said they would be prepared to take industrial action to defend USS pension benefits on a turnout of 55.8% of those eligible.

This turnout – if replicated in a statutory ballot – well exceeds the 50% turnout requirement set by the government as the minimum legal requirement.
Thank you for your support of the union. Later today, your elected negotiators will begin detailed talks with the employers. No one should be in any doubt about the difficulty of the task they are undertaking on your behalf.
Universities UK (UUK), which represents the USS institutions in these negotiations, recognises that institutions have the ability to pay extra in order to safeguard existing benefits. However so far they have said that this is not an option and unless we can change their minds or persuade both UUK and USS itself to adjust their valuation methodology, detrimental change is inevitable.
Some employers have even signalled that they wish to move wholly to a scheme in which your pension income will be dependent on what returns if any there are from the investment of your contributions in the stock market – in essence a pension with no guarantees.
I hope our ballot result concentrates the minds of your employers. All we want is for them to stand up for staff and help us to protect your interests in the fund rather than look away while benefits are cut.
Be in no doubt that I and colleagues will try to solve this difficult dispute but if we need to seek your support for action it is good to know that you are with us in such large numbers.

Response to valuation of the University Superannuation Scheme

In response to the information circulated by the University recently concerning the valuation of the University Superannuation Scheme, our former Surrey UCU Pension Rep is happy to share his consequent response to the University:

I believe that USS is using the same Gilts plus methodology for valuation which they used in 2014 therefore it is not more optimistic. It is also more pessimistic than USS’s best estimate of future returns on their investments. 

Independent studies, and I believe those of USS’s consultants, have verified that the required funding gap is within the employers ability to pay but may not be in line with employers willingness to pay. It all revolves around how much employers value their employees across the whole range of the salary spectrum.

Report for UCU: Progressing the valuation of the USS. 15 September 2017. The First Actuarial report prepared for UCU as a response to the USS’s consultation document, also concludes:  The current employers’ contribution rate of 18% of pensionable pay, of which 15.1% goes towards defined benefits, is prudent. The asset income which is required, in addition to contributions, to pay the benefits in full is low. Indeed, in a scenario of “best estimate” pay rises, the benefits of the USS can very nearly be paid from contributions, without reliance on the assets. We can be very confident that the scheme is not vulnerable to forced disinvestment. We can be very confident that the cash flow in will meet benefit outgo for the very long term, so in the mean time fluctuations of market value or the pension scheme’s balance sheet are of low importance. The break even returns of 1.36% pa real CPI on past service and 1.85% pa real over CPI on future service are well below the expected returns on equities and property. The likelihood that the USS can achieve the break even returns is high. If the actual performance achieved exceeds the break even returns, the funding level will improve. Any funding level could be achieved eventually, given time. The cost of longevity improvements should be partially covered by the link of the USS’s NPA to SPA. At some point, there may need to be an adjustment to the balance of the contribution rate and the benefits to respond to improving longevity, but this point is not imminent. Subject to this point about increasing longevity, the cash flow analysis does not show any need to increase the contribution rate. The employers should be able to regard their current contribution rate as reliable. Making the same point the other way around, there is no need to reduce members’ benefits. Full report:

Urgent announcement from Sally Hunt: A major university (Southampton) has become the first to publicly call for current USS pension benefits to be wholly replaced by a defined contribution scheme. Forget the pensions jargon. What this means in simple terms is that rather than being based on scheme rules as now, your annual pension will be completely dependent upon what returns your monthly USS contributions can get from the stock market. If other universities follow suit, UCU will need every member to stand together with the union and say NO.

Please also find the following information on USS which may be of use:

Request a replacement USS e-ballotThe ballot to defend the USS pension is currently open. If you haven’t voted please vote now. It’s crucial that we show that members are prepared to defend their pensions so please check your inbox (and junk box) for the unique link UCU has sent you and let UCU know if you can’t find it:

USS Posters: show your support. If you’ve already voted why not put one of the new UCU / USS posters up on your door. Please download here:

We will keep you updated as and when we receive more details –


University of Surrey pays 18 members of staff £140,000 or more – but only one of them is female

3 August 2017

getSURREY reports:

The University of Surrey employs 18 members of staff remunerated to a total of £140,000 or more – but only one of those staff members is female, newly published data has revealed.

Figures revealed through a Freedom of Information request show the university currently pays 55 employees less than the Living Wage, 23 of whom are women.

The stats show the university employs less than five apprentices, the lowest paid on just £7,800 a year

They also reveal the highest paid member of staff is paid some 24 times more than the lowest paid staff member.

A spokesman for the university said: “The university has to compete for talent in a global market for all of its staff.

“Therefore, we have to ensure our remuneration is such that we can recruit and retain talent at all levels.

“We have worked hard in recent years to improve our performance on equality, and around 30% of our senior staff are female, in line with our sector – and we are actively looking to improve the balance still further.

“All of our staff are paid above the minimum wage, and the university makes generous pension contributions of up to 18% of salary, as well as having excellent benefits, such as 40 days paid leave a year, inclusive of public holidays.

“The University of Surrey prides itself on being one of the largest and best employers in the area, and last year our staff survey highlighted staff engagement was at its highest level for seven years.”

The complete answers to the FOI request are here:

Struggle for top research grades fuels bullying among university staff

From the Guardian:

The fevered build up to this month’s university research audit has exposed academics to an atmosphere of competitiveness and bullying, according to a survey by the Guardian’s higher education network.

More than half of UK university staff questioned by the network said recent policy changes such as the introduction of the research excellence framework – a new process for measuring the quality of academic research – had fuelled campus bullying.

The survey questioned over 1,300 university staff who have experienced bullying at work, half of which are based at UK institutions. The research did not attempt to measure the scale of bullying, but asked respondents about its causes and how well universities deal with such behaviour.



Death by performance review

Imperial College London is to examine its staff policies after the death of an academic who was believed to have been placed under a performance review.

Stefan Grimm, professor of toxicology in the Faculty of Medicine at Imperial, was found dead in Northwood, Middlesex, in September. An inquest was opened and adjourned at the West London District Coroner’s Court on 8 October.

Speaking to Times Higher Education on condition of anonymity, two academics who knew Professor Grimm, who was 51, said that he had complained of being placed under undue pressure by the university in the months leading up to his death, and that he had been placed on performance review.


Six myths about how the unions are ruining Britain

The Daily Mail front page caught my eye yesterday: it announced that trade unions were now paying their members to go on strike. I confess to being almost impressed at that infernal organ’s ability to alchemise scandals out of the prosaic, and it got me thinking about the other myths that are commonly peddled about trade unions. Let’s have a look at six regulars, and give them a good old busting….

Article continues at: