USSU response to Surrey UCU open letter

Dear Surrey UCU,


On behalf of the University of Surrey Students’ Union, I wanted to thank you for writing to us in relation to the USS pension dispute and to express our gratitude for dialogue on this and other issues over the last few months.

At our last Union Executive Committee meeting (9th January 2018), we discussed the potential for strike action in the near future in relation to Jake Roberts’ motion ‘Standing in Solidarity with UCU and their Fight for Fair Pensions’. I have attached the final version of the motion, which passed following amendments.

In response to the passed motion, we have written to the Vice Chancellor, encouraging him to make his position within UUK on the pensions dispute known, and to help support a swift mutually-agreeable outcome in negotiations. Furthermore, we will be raising awareness of the issue and will encourage PGR members of UCU to engage in the discussion and make use of their voting rights.

One of the key concerns discussed at the Executive Committee meeting surrounded the impact of a strike to students. Whilst we appreciate the long-term ramifications of the current proposals, we must be sensitive to the disruption that sustained industrial action could cause for our membership. With this in mind, we are not currently taking a position in relation to the dispute beyond wishing to minimise the disruption which may arise from a strike. However, we would like to emphasise the importance that we remain in close contact as the situation develops and – where it does not significantly conflict with the interests of our membership – support Surrey UCU.


Yours sincerely,


Saskia Cochrane

President of USSU

On behalf of the USSU Executive Committee



Standing in solidarity with UCU and their fight for fair pensions!

Proposed by: Jake Roberts (subsequently amended by the Executive Committee)

USSU notes:

  1. The University and College Union (UCU) is currently balloting its members for strike action over Universities UK’s (UUK’s) plans to scrap guaranteed pension benefits from the sector’s main retirement fund.
    1. This ballot closes on Friday 19th[i]
    2. The action proposed by the national UCU includes a series of strikes by lecturers, as well as refusals to reschedule classes or substitute for sick colleagues, to be held in February next year.[ii] This does not necessarily describe what action Surrey UCU will take, however.
  2. Independent analysis from First Actuarial estimates that UUK’s plans would reduce retirement benefits paid by between 20% and 40%, depending upon grade and length of service.[iii]
  3. UCU general secretary Sally Hunt has said the plans would leave academics “facing years of stress about whether their pension investments are returning enough income to live on”[iv]
  4. UCU represents academic staff in the UK, including researchers, postgraduate researchers, teaching staff, and permanent lecturers. It has around 40,000 members.
  5. UUK is an advocacy organisation for all UK universities, whose membership consists of all the vice-chancellors or principals of universities in the UK.
  6. A consultative ballot of UCU members in October 2017 showed that nearly 87% of UCU members were prepared to take industrial action over the issue.[v]
  7. Under the Trade Union Act 2016, industrial action is now only lawful if a ballot turnout is at least 50%.[vi]
  8. USSU represents around 3,600 postgraduate students at Surrey, some of whom are represented by UCU (though not necessarily affected by the pension changes).[vii]

USSU believes:

  1. All academic staff have a right to job security. Fair pensions are a key part of this security.
  2. UCU members should go on strike to protect their pensions, or take action short of a strike.
  3. Lecturers’ working conditions are students’ learning The well-being and job security of students’ teachers and lecturers is not just a staff issue, it is also a student one.
  4. The success of any potential strike action depends on the mobilisation of as many UCU members as possible, across the country. Students’ unions have an important role to play in this mobilisation, as institutions of significant resources and memberships.

USSU resolves:

  1. To encourage PGR UCU members to vote in the ballot for industrial action.
    1. This involves raising awareness of the dispute on the Union’s Facebook and Twitter pages, and other social media, amongst other things.[viii]
  2. To be in close contact with Surrey UCU throughout the period of balloting and potential industrial action, and offer firm support for any of their needs that do not conflict with USSU’s members.
  3. To write a public letter to Surrey’s Vice-Chancellor, Max Lu, asking him to publicly outline the position he has taken within UUK regarding the pensions dispute and to support a swift, mutually-agreed outcome.[ix]








[vii] 3,600 figure applies to 2016/17. Data for 2017/18 are not available. See here:

[viii] Social media resources are available here:

[ix] Vice-Chancellors at Warwick ( and Glasgow ( have publicly voiced opposition to the proposals, for example.