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Message from the Provost on the unsuccessful outcome of the pensions negotiations

14 March 2018

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Following an intense week of talks between the University and College Union (UCU) and Universities UK (UUK), I was very sad to hear that the UCU Higher Education Committee and UCU Branch Chairs have rejected the agreement that ACAS-mediated joint negotiations had proposed yesterday.

The proposal was for an interim three year arrangement that built on UCL’s suggestion of retaining Defined Benefit up to the average salary of UCU members, £42K, alongside increased employer and staff contributions, as well as taking up the idea of an independent expert valuation review that will draw on academic expertise from within the sector. Full details of the proposal are available here.

UCL has confirmed to UUK that we are happy to agree with the ACAS-mediated proposals. These proposals represent a substantially better deal for our staff than the original January UUK position. Both UUK and UCU shifted from their original negotiating positions to try to reach a fair settlement for everyone across the sector, including UCL.

We understand that the current valuation is a contentious issue for staff. It’s complicated, and we do strongly agree that the valuation needs further independent examination. This needs to be done transparently, and this is what has been agreed as part of the revised proposal. This is an important concession on the part of UUK.

I don’t believe that this can or should be done quickly. It is unlikely to be possible to do it in the remaining short time frame required by the Regulator under current pensions’ law to make changes to the USS scheme. This was one of two reasons behind the proposal from the talks for an interim arrangement: to allow time for changes to the valuation methodology; and secondly, to consider introducing a Collective Defined Contribution scheme which would offer a greater degree of risk sharing.

We are still keen to put forward UCL academics to be selected for membership of the expert revaluation group.

It is not yet clear what will happen next. We continue to encourage both sides to get back to the negotiating table, to understand the UCU branches’ reasons for rejecting the proposal and find out if there is room for further negotiation. If talks do not resume, our understanding is that the Joint Negotiating Committee will decide on 29 March which set of proposals to use for the resumed formal consultation (currently suspended) with all members of USS.

I would like to apologise to our students that some teaching will continue to be disrupted. We will do everything in our power to minimise that impact. Updated information to students is available here.

We will go on doing all we can to try to bring this dispute to a resolution. A sustainable and predictable USS pension scheme, which works for UCL staff members and for the sector as a whole, is the outcome we want to see.

In the short term, we’ll be working through in detail what the rejected interim proposal would have meant for UCL’s financial position, in parallel with UUK and UCU calculating the impact on USS members.

In the medium term, we’ll be considering UCL’s overall remuneration and benefits package to help with the increasing costs of working and living in London. We will consult widely on those proposals.

Uppermost in my mind is the need to work through the difficulties that we face together, maintaining our collegiality, mutual respect and sense of community, all of which is so important to the future of UCL.

Professor Michael Arthur
President & Provost