UCL Human Resources


Updates on pension valuation, pay negotiations and no UCU strike action for the next two weeks

20 February 2023

A message from Donna Dalrymple, Chief People Officer

Portico with people

Dear colleagues,  

I am writing to you with the welcome news that all strike action planned for the next two weeks by our union partners has been paused following constructive negotiations on both pay and pensions.  

This means that the days of strike action which were planned to take place this week on Tuesday 21 February, Wednesday 22 February and Thursday 23 February, and next week on Monday 27 February, Tuesday 28 February, Wednesday 1 March and Thursday 2 March are now no longer happening. 

Our union partners have taken the decision to pause strike action to allow space for further negotiations following a significant improvement in the financial position of the USS pension scheme in the latest quarterly monitoring figures and constructive negotiations with UCEA, the body which oversees national bargaining on pay and other issues. 

We welcome this progress and decision by all sides to enter a period of calm while further negotiations are ongoing, and we hope for a swift resolution to the current disputes. 

To update you on recent progress: 

Improvement in USS pension scheme’s financial position   

On Friday 17 February, the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) Trustee, the principal pension scheme for UCL and hundreds of other universities in the UK, published its latest quarterly monitoring figures.  

Universities UK (UUK), the body that represents USS employers, including UCL, has said that these continue to show a significant improvement in the scheme’s financial position since the last valuation. Whilst there is still considerable volatility due to current economic conditions, all indications point to the scheme’s finances now being on a much stronger footing. 

UUK has also said that this means that the forthcoming 2023 valuation, due in March, is likely to reveal a high probability of being able to improve benefits for employees and reduce contributions. UUK and UCU released a joint statement on Friday saying that they were now working towards a solution and that signs point to changes to the scheme which could include a possible return to a comparable level of future benefits as existed before the April 2022 changes, a reduction in costs for members and employers, or even both. All sides have committed to trying to avoid future contention and dispute, helping to build trust and confidence in the scheme.  

Our position at UCL has always been that the original proposed increases from USS were unaffordable, unsustainable and unfair for all our members and we are on record as having repeatedly pushed for a new valuation of the scheme and for a full review of the scheme’s governance. We welcome the news that both sides are committed to finding a solution. We remain committed to the scheme and achieving the best possible outcome for all our staff. 

We will continue to keep you updated as we know more from the ongoing negotiations and ahead of the upcoming March valuation of the scheme. 

Update on pay negotiations and other issues  

There have also been constructive moves forward in negotiations on pay and other issues. Pay levels are negotiated and decided nationally on behalf of around 140 universities by Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA).  

Over the last week, UCEA representatives have been meeting with representatives from the five HE trade unions in facilitated talks. The outcome of the discussions has resulted in an impasse, and it is agreed that regarding pay the Dispute Resolution Procedure has been exhausted. However, all parties have agreed to proceed to further talks on priority issues, including a joint commitment over a revised/refreshed pay spine, and a commitment to negotiations on contract types, workload and pay gaps. When terms of reference have been agreed, further consultation will be held with employers and union members to gain a mandate for negotiations to take place. You can read more about this in UCEA’s statement on pay here, published 17 February. 

As a reminder, UCEA has made a final pay offer of between 8% and 5% uplift to 2023/24 pay from August 2023 with a proportion of that to be backdated and paid from 1 February 2023, some six months in advance of the usual pay uplift date, in recognition of the inflation pressures on staff right now. This will be weighted so that those at the lower end of the pay spine will receive a greater uplift. Following the next phase of discussions between UCEA and the joint unions, UCEA will advise employers on whether the pay uplift can be implemented.   

While we do not have direct control over the national pay round at UCL, we have been a voice within the bargaining process pushing for a higher pay offer in recognition of the increases in the cost of living. Where we can act independently of national bargaining we have done so, for example by increasing the London Allowance and extending the number of staff who receive it. We are also an official London Living Wage employer and all outsourced staff at UCL are employed under the same terms and key conditions as in-house staff. 

We also know that workload, job security and equality are key concerns for staff at UCL, and these are all issues that we are addressing within the financial constraints in which we are operating. One example of activity that is making a difference is our Teaching Concordat, launched in 2020, which created new rules of employment for teaching staff and has reduced use of fixed-term contracts for teaching staff and moved the majority of Postgraduate Teaching Assistants (PGTAs) from hourly payment onto full-time equivalent (FTE) contracts. You can see more about the ways in which we are trying to address the issues of concern here on the HR website.   

The next phase of negotiations should conclude at the end of February, and we will continue to keep you updated on their outcomes and how this may affect you.  

What action do I need to take following the pause in strikes? 

In recognition of the period of calm needed to facilitate these further discussions, UCU and UCEA have announced that there will be no industrial action throughout the rest of February.  

We would like to remind staff who taken part in strike action so far to please use the online reporting system to declare each day that you took part. Departments also must keep a local record of cancelled classes in which names of teaching staff must not be recorded, only teaching instances that have been impacted, and this data will be used only in response to potential OIA complaints, student questions or legal claims.  

We are updating our listed dates for strike action and communicating this information to students as a priority. Please direct your students to our FAQ page if they have any questions. 

We recognise that this has been a period of uncertainty and difficulty for many of you and we are hopeful that these positive indications may mean a resolution is reached soon. We will continue to keep you updated and to keep pushing for improvements within the constraints of this environment.  

Donna Dalrymple

Chief People Officer, UCL