Message from the Provost on pensions
1 March 2018
We are now into the second pensions strike period affecting universities across the UK and I was pleased to see that talks yesterday between UUK and UCU have made some early progress. They have also agreed to conduct further talks next week, mediated by ACAS – an important step.
As part of these developments, UCU have tabled a revised offer that UUK are now considering. We are hopeful that UCU will suspend their strike action while further negotiation takes place.
Speaking to some of you on the picket line underlined to me that no one takes strike action lightly. Everyone in a leadership position at UCL understands that staff care deeply about their work and are hugely committed to students. That relationship with students is, of course, reciprocated and students have been vocally supportive of this industrial action, even though it potentially disadvantages them.
Pensions are absolutely fundamental and it’s vitally important that we are able to offer all staff a secure and sustainable pension for the long-term. I sympathise with the concern that a great many staff have about the proposed changes. To reiterate our position presented to UUK, we would prefer for our staff to continue to receive a defined benefit pension that is part of a sustainable USS.
UCL would be open to considering other changes, including any that emerge from the talks between UUK and UCU. We wouldn’t rule out some increase in the already significant employers’ contribution, as part of a comprehensive sustainable deal, though that might be a red line for others. In particular, we would also like to see more explicit detail on elements of a defined benefit scheme that could be maintained, or re-introduced, if the USS valuation were to improve in the future.
We agree that the valuation should be looked at again with input from independent and expert opinion, including from the academic community. I’m concerned about how that would fit with the current legally binding timeframe, but as a piece of work that helps inform the long-term pension offer, we would be supportive. One idea might be to link any benefits of this re-valuation to greater support for the pensions of those at the early stage of their careers to help tackle issues of intergenerational fairness.
Many of you have also expressed concerns to me about the overall remuneration package falling behind that which UCL needs to remain competitive globally, and in comparison to other leading universities in London. I had already asked Fiona Ryland, our new Director of HR, to come up with proposals on how we can improve our overall remuneration and benefits package to help with the increasing costs of working and living in London. We will consult widely with you on this.
Pensions are a hugely important and complex issue and it is understandable that feelings are running high. The most important message I want to give, to those who are striking and those who are impacted by strike action, is this – we are one community.
There is always a range of opinion across UCL, often deeply-held. Let’s listen to and debate with each other respectfully, engage in constructive dialogue and, together, find a solution to an issue that is of huge long-term significance, not just for us, but for future generations of university researchers, teachers and professional services staff. I'm also open to any other ideas that help to create a sustainable solution and this will be a topic for discussion at the leadership forum tomorrow.
Professor Michael Arthur
President & Provost