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Ballot result: strike action suspended

You’ll all have seen the emails on Friday from UCU Head office to confirm that strike action is now suspended: this includes action short of a strike (ASOS).
It has been a tough couple of months, but let’s take a moment to look at what we’ve achieved at Branch level.       
As a Branch we have built momentum and worked together. We have recruited new members, our membership has grown by 15%, and many of these members actively supported our recent action. Our pickets grew in strength and we had important student support. We campaigned hard, and effectively, to reduce punitive ASOS deductions that most other Branches did not have to face. We have come out of this dispute stronger, more active, and more connected. This should be seen as a good turning point.
Of course it is not over yet. We will all need to keep a close eye on UUK to make sure they follow through on what they’ve said to date.  This dispute is not over and we must all keep on top of developments as they occur over the coming months. We are sure that we can rise to this challenge if necessary and build on our local achievements.
Keep hopeful, keep critical, keep up to date – and most importantly, of course, keep in touch!
Kind regards 

Surrey UCU

USS Ballot Result

Dear colleague

The USS consultation closed at 2pm today.

The result was as follows:

Total balloted: 53,415
Total votes cast: 33,973
Total number valid votes: 33,913
Turnout: 63.5%

Yes to accept the UUK offer 21,683 (64%)
No to reject the UUK offer 12,230 (36%)

This represents the highest turnout in any national ballot or consultation of any kind in UCU’s history.

My thanks go to all the branches and UCU staff who did so much to encourage members to participate in such enormous numbers as well as to the thousands of members who contacted me direct to discuss and debate our next steps during the consultation.

In line with the decision of members the union will suspend its immediate industrial action plans but keep our legal strike mandate live until the agreement between UCU and UUK is noted by USS.

We will now get on with the job of making the joint expert panel work for you and your pension.

For the avoidance of doubt, all currently planned industrial action – including that scheduled for next week – is suspended and members should work normally.

However you voted, thank you so much for participating in this record breaking consultation and for all of your support for the union throughout this historic dispute.

Sally Hunt
UCU general secretary

Student Solidarity with the UCU Strike

We have today received this message from a member of the campaign group on campus: ‘Surrey Students Support The UCU Strike’

To the academic staff that have invested in my personal development and education over the last four years,

I am writing to express my support and solidarity with UCU members that will be striking and partaking in other industrial action on Thursday 22nd February and Friday 23rd February. I will not cross picket lines, and therefore will be deliberately not attending any contact hours during these days.

Myself and many students recognise the importance of this strike action: it represents not just the labour interests of current staff, but also of current students, future staff and all those that wish to pursue a higher education in years to come. We see the severity of this industrial action as entirely justified and proportional as a response to UUK refusing to reopen negotiations about the proposed hardline, brutal pension cuts. There are structural flaws in the HE sector, however when the few who are in power continue to act in short-term, self interest at the cost of the many – there is no chance of dismantling these barriers.

Staff working conditions are student learning conditions, and if we allow the hard work of our academics to become treated as an exchangeable commodity, we then become complicit in the commercialisation of our own education. We become complicit in upholding the current barriers that prevent disadvantaged groups participating in HE, as a result of the increasing marketisation of education. We become complicit in degrading academia. There will be disruption; that is the point. If we do not disrupt UUK now, we stand to see the education become disrupted, warped and shaped in the interests profit, not people.

I believe universities are an environment where we invest in our minds, discover and develop a strong sense of self, so we can collectively research and address the challenges in our society. Perhaps the Bioscience Department exemplifies this most. Why are we here is we don’t care about understanding and improving life on Earth?

The University of Surrey is not and should not be a market place where we trade knowledge, it can and will remain a place with values and integrity. If we forget what it means to be part of an academic community, if we forget to stand in solidarity together, if we forget that our individual experience at Surrey is the result of the hard work of a much larger collective – then we have learnt nothing.

I stand in solidarity with UCU. I stand in solidarity with what Higher Education should be.

Yours Sincerely,

‘Surrey Students Support The UCU Strike’

Surrey Students Support UCU will be sending an open letter to Max Lu on Thursday Feb 22nd

Letter to our Surrey UCU members

Dear all,

We are writing our last letter before strike action, and this time the letter is to you, our Surrey UCU members. We were very sorry not to receive a response from Professor Lu himself to our last open letter, but instead a response from the Head of HR that left many of our questions unanswered. In particular, we feel that it is unfortunate that:

– We have no specific response for our members who will not receive a UK state pension and for whom we believe that the current Aon modelling, promoted by UUK, is misleading

– That we have no explanation as to why it is thought appropriate, given the different valuations of the USS pension, that UUK supported one set of figures to discredit the current scheme whilst using another to support the projected modelling of their proposal.

In addition to this, in terms of the current formal consultation, it would be positive to receive confirmation that University of Surrey is listening to its staff members. The UCU Ballot result was announced on the 22nd January, the day before the final JNC meeting. This was the biggest mandate that UCU had ever received, and nationally we even reached the double threshold imposed on public service unions, that not only 50% of members vote, but that 50% of members vote Yes.  We know of at least one University that reacted instantly to this strong message from their staff members and ‘conference called’ into a UUK Employers Pension Forum stating they were now keen to find a middle ground. UCU members have made it very clear what they think of the current proposal.

You will hopefully have seen the email sent round by Sally Hunt yesterday detailing the Universities that have supported UCU and openly called for further negotiations. These institutions include Loughborough, Goldsmiths, Glasgow, Warwick, Birkbeck, Strathclyde, and London School of Tropical Hygiene and Medicine. We have previously circulated the call for more time and more negotiations from the Sheffield VC.

Please do not miss this statement now issued by the Vice Chancellor at Essex, Anthony Forster, who unequivocally supports the rights of staff to retain the
defined benefit pension in a spirit of ‘principled compromise’. It is incredibly heartening, given the huge changes being proposed by UUK, that a statement stressing the importance of duty of care to staff members has been released by a VC at this time.

A huge amount of positive press has been generated supporting UCU. Please do not miss the front page of the TIMES today – it really is a show down piece:

To return to University of Surrey and recent statements, we were concerned to read, within the Head of HR’s response to our Open Letter, that PwC is advising the USS trustees. We know that PwC have been involved in a huge restructuring process in a nearby University which cost £36 million, and which resulted, when you look at the University accounts, in a subsequent rise in staff costs. The ability of consultancy firms like PwC to extract millions of pounds from public institutions for extremely dubious results is outlined in the BBC documentary Who’s Spending Britain’s Billions (there is about 15 minutes just on PwC!) Please find the documentary here:

This is also related to our request to Professor Lu about discussion on the priorities of the University. We are concerned that the value of staff is being sidelined. Up and down the country, Universities have embarked on huge projects, turning their campuses into building sites and ambitiously creating overseas campuses. We are concerned that at any point where finances need to be reviewed, cutting staff costs is the first option on the list.

On a positive note, however, in terms of local news, USSU have provided information on strike action on their website, and beforehand they asked both sides to contribute a statement. You can find the information supplied, including the UCU view, here:

We are proud to have established a constructive dialogue with USSU, Unite and Unison in the lead up to strike action. We are cc’ing USSU, Unison and Unite into this member letter, not as a sign that we expect them to agree on all points of our position, but to show our commitment to communication during this dispute. We would also welcome a return to open dialogue with Professor Lu.

As we now enter the last few days, we advise all members, and students, to write to the VC, asking for the details that we have not yet received. In relation to his assurance:

This is why I and the Executive Board have been supporting the attempts being made by all parties to reach a mutually agreeable outcome in the pension discussions, but the outcome must be one that is affordable for institutions.

We asked:

We are very pleased to hear that yourself and the Executive Board have been supporting the attempts being made by all parties to reach a mutually agreeable outcome in the pension discussions. It would be a great comfort to our members, and to staff members here at University of Surrey generally, to hear how this support has manifested itself, and what actions you have taken to further a mutually agreeable outcome which is unfortunately not yet in sight.

We wish only to add, as a last point, that it is important to remember that we are not taking action alone, but our Branch is part of a huge movement involving 61 other HE institutions.

Surrey UCU is not alone.

See you on the pickets.

The Surrey UCU Committee

Open letter to Professor Lu from the Surrey UCU Committee about the USS dispute

Thank you for your detailed and courteous response to our Open Letter dated 26th January. We appreciate the time you have taken to explain your stance within UUK when representing the interests of your staff at University of Surrey who are members of the USS pension. We agree with you that this is indeed a very complicated and serious issue.

Due to the urgency of the situation we feel a responsibility to our Surrey UCU members, at this critical stage, to request further information on the following points:

We understand that the valuation that you reference when claiming that the scheme is currently in deficit is contained within the USS consultation document (‘2017 Actuarial Valuation: A consultation with Universities UK on the proposed assumptions for the scheme’s technical provisions and statement of funding principles’). As you will be aware, UCU strongly contested the methodology of this valuation and commissioned actuarial advice which was published in September 2017:

The conclusions of this document were:

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 2 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 USS does not have negative net cash flow and is not likely to have in future (subject to dealing with increasing longevity, as already noted). Cash and short dated investments are not needed to meet net outgo and to protect against forced disinvestment. Unfortunately, we understand that UUK insisted on supporting the original USS valuation. It is with consternation, then, that we witness UUK promoting the Aon modelling of the current proposal, as the Aon modelling uses higher, more optimistic estimates than those previously used by USS. Can you please explain to us whether you yourself believe this to be inconsistent, and also could you please explain why UUK have not subsequently called on USS to use these more optimistic figures when valuating the current scheme?

An additional concern with the Aon modelling (additional to the fact that in every single example, the projected annual pension income, for any group, is significantly less than it would be on the current basis) is that it contains the assumption of a state pension. We note that the current individual modelling that USS members can access does not include the state pension. Can you please state whether you believe this to be misleading as including a state pension superficially reduces the impact of the proposed changes? Can you also state whether you have voiced concern within UUK on behalf of your staff members who will not receive a UK state pension and for whom current example projections should have been modified?

You have stated that employers are not looking to reduce their payments and that these proposed changes are in line with leading UK organisations. We note that staff members in industry can earn much higher wages than staff in the HE sector and that traditionally, the security of the pension was a pay-off that attracted potential employees into academia. This is all the more important as the uncertainty surrounding Brexit continues, raising issues such as HE staff recruitment and retention.

We express our regret at your claim that there is no time for further negotiations to take place, especially since UCU are urgently calling for further negotiations in order to avert strike action. We hope that you will explore every possibility to continue the talks on behalf of your staff here at the University of Surrey. Please consider the approach and action taken by the VC at Sheffield:

I wanted you to know that my position is that all sides of the national debate should continue to talk, to explore the problem and the potential solutions and to seek a way forward which satisfies all parties. Given disagreements about the value of the USS fund at the heart of these issues, I would support calls for the Pensions Regulator or another agreed third party to independently value USS against international benchmarks of similar schemes. I hope this may allow some crucial time and the ability for all to return to the table.!/file/letter.pdf 3 In contrast to this approach, suggesting that your staff members engage with consultation rather than take part in industrial action whilst also implying that, not to go with the new proposals will cause ‘significant’ staff cuts, is a punitive tone that we had hoped University of Surrey had moved away from. We would therefore welcome a dialogue which openly discusses the priorities of the University, with the three recognised trade unions and USSU.

We are very pleased to hear that yourself and the Executive Board have been supporting the attempts being made by all parties to reach a mutually agreeable outcome in the pension discussions. It would be a great comfort to our members, and to staff members here at University of Surrey generally, to hear how this support has manifested itself, and what actions you have taken to further a mutually agreeable outcome which is unfortunately not yet in sight.

We would also like to add that we will be sharing this open letter with our Surrey UCU membership alongside your previous response in a spirit of transparency. We thank you again for engaging with Surrey UCU at this extremely critical point in the USS dispute.

Kind regards

The Surrey UCU Committee

Pension Questions

We have received the following member questions which our National UCU Pensions Official has answered:

1. Employer contributions are only guaranteed until March 2020 and they are proposing to extend this to March 2023. Once the University is no longer liable for the pensions, they can easily decrease their contributions in the future. Why is this not being extended indefinitely or at least for some very large amount of time like 50 years?

The University part of the USS which is a last man standing scheme which means all the liabilities of the scheme (past service accrued) are owned by all of the universities in the scheme and if an institutions failed then others would pick up the bill. Employer contributions in any scheme are reviewed each valuation i.e. every three years so a promise of 18% until 2023 is a long time normally it would be for 3 years. It wouldn’t be for a very long time because that would be assuming that the funding would require that and we can’t look that far ahead on future funding. Hopefully the economic conditions means they can reduce their contributions and therefore we can. It is a 65/35 distribution.

2.In the “A valuable DC” it says that 13.25% of the salary will go to the defined contribution pension. However, 18% is being contributed by the University on behalf of us. Where is the 4.75% going? If any of this is used to pay for someone else’s benefit that I am not entitled to, I think this is unacceptable. If we are truly switching to a defined contribution pension then it’s every man/woman for themselves.

They will always be liable for the past service by law so now a set amount of that will go to pay for the past service pot (accrued Defined Benefits), then there is a subsidy towards member charges, then remember the death in service and ill health will still be defined benefit thankfully and there is admin costs. It is a lot to come out of less than 5%. Remember under law the employer only has to pay 3% in total from 2019 when changes will happen.

3.Is there any way that another entity, not USS, can be chosen to manage the defined contribution portion of our pension? After all of the changes I do not trust them to correctly manage our money and I am worried that they will use money earmarked for our defined contribution pensions to pay off a defined benefit pension.

No this is in theory a temporary measure and in theory the defined benefit salary cap can move up again. It is up to the employers which schemes they go into. You can opt out and put your money elsewhere but the employer would not put any money in. The deficit and change are due to the way schemes are valued and market conditions not mismanagement.

 Remember that post ’92 institutions are in the Teachers’ pension scheme which is very good. Employers think no-one will move across to these institutions but perhaps members will be tempted.


UCU announces 14 strike dates at 61 universities in pensions row

Strikes will begin on Thursday 22 February

UCU has written to the 61 universities* to inform them of an escalating wave of strikes over a four-week period that will begin with a five-day walkout either side of a weekend. There will then be four days of strikes from Monday 5 – Thursday 8 March and a full five-day walkout the following week (12 – 16 March). The strike dates are:

Week one – Thursday 22 and Friday 23 February (two days)

Week two – Monday 26, Tuesday 27 and Wednesday 28 February (three days)

Week three – Monday 5, Tuesday 6, Wednesday 7 and Thursday 8 March (four days)

Week four – Monday 12, Tuesday 13, Wednesday 14, Thursday 15 and Friday 16 March (five days)

Surrey UCU reached the 50% turn out threshold and will be participating in strike action.

Formal letter of thanks to University of Surrey Students’ Union from Surrey UCU


Dear Saskia,
The Surrey UCU Committee would like to express formal thanks for the USSU response to our open letter re USS. In return, the Surrey UCU Committee remains committed to an open and frank dialogue with USSU throughout the USS pension campaign, up to, and including, any potential industrial action taken.
In particular, we warmly welcome the position and action outlined in the USSU motion and within your opening statement on behalf of the USSU Executive Committee. We also share your commitment to a ‘swift, mutually-agreed outcome’ to this dispute.
Kind regards
Surrey UCU Committee

Open letter to USSU from Surrey UCU re USS

Dear University of Surrey Students’ Union

You may not be aware that there is a formal UCU Ballot taking place at the moment, UCU members are voting on whether to take strike action, or action short of a strike. This ballot runs until 19th January and is a response to the drastic proposal that the employers (UUK) have made on staff pensions (USS).

UUK are proposing to change the pension from a
 guaranteed return (defined benefits scheme ) to a gamble on the stock market at the point of retirement (defined contribution scheme), and this is especially concerning for early career academics who have not accrued defined benefits over a long career. If UCU allow this to happen, university graduates also entering academia as employees will inherit a very poor deal.  UCU members also have significant concerns over the claim that the current scheme is in deficit, a claim only generated by a valuation which assumes that the entire HE sector will end on an unspecified date, and that no new University staff will therefore be paying in to the USS scheme.

We are aware that the employers are divided on this proposal, and that the VCs at Warwick and Glasgow are supporting guaranteed pensions and UCU:

The VC at Warwick states that he is ‘mystified’ at the stance taken by UUK:

The University of Glasgow has stated that it would prefer to keep a Defined Benefits Scheme and ‘The University believes that its interests are aligned with those of the UCU and that all parties should work together constructively to identify a solution. It is, of course, for members of UCU to decide how they vote in the ballot.’

As the University of Surrey Member of UUK, the VC here has not revealed his stance. If you would like more clarification on this issue, do please take the time to support your lecturers and write to him requesting this information. Your support would be much appreciated and it may help turn the tide on this dispute. UCU are of course hoping that negotiations will become more productive and no action will therefore be necessary. Your support could make all the difference.

Thank you

Surrey UCU Committee