Vice-Chancellor news

Correspondence between the Vice-Chancellor and UCU members taking strike action

Dear signatories,

Thanks for your email and for the measured and constructive approach that you take. I have no doubt that you are taking strike action with reluctance and that you care passionately about our students, about research and about the university community. For my part I can assure you that UUK is indeed committed to finding an acceptable and sustainable solution to this difficult and damaging predicament as soon as possible.

I absolutely agree with you that we must challenge the Pensions Regulator to review its position. You will recall that I have said as much in a public joint statement with Cardiff UCU. It has long been clear that the Regulator — having twice intervened last year to make USS take a more conservative approach to the valuation — has a critical role to play, and we must focus greater attention on that area. In the same statement we also called for an academically-informed group to oversee a new independent valuation, a suggestion which was also picked up in the rejected ACAS agreement, and which surely must be part of any resolution.

The Pensions Regulator will have a key role to play if the status quo is to be maintained beyond April 2019, because that outcome is linked to the question of the 2017 valuation. My next step will be to press the relevant parties — UUK, UCU, USS and the Regulator — to make it clear whether revisiting the 2017 valuation is a possibility, if not why not, and if so, whether there is a realistic chance of changing assumptions such that the requirement for more funding or reduced benefits is eliminated. This appears not to have happened in the 18-month run-up to the 2017 valuation, remembering that UCU has three trustees on the Board of USS (Dave Guppy, Jane Hutton and Steve Wharton).

Thank you for outlining your reasons for rejecting the ACAS proposal. They broadly coincide with what I have heard by talking directly to a number of colleagues who have been involved in strike action. I think it is very important that your views are heard both at the Russell Group and UUK and I will represent them. It is difficult to see how a resolution can be achieved unless we are able to listen to and address the concerns of USS members; the issue will be how to address them in an affordable and sustainable way that is acceptable to all parties. For the sake of all involved we do have to find a way of doing that.

Best wishes

Colin Riordan

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Dear Prof. Riordan,

We are writing to you as a group that over the past four weeks has gathered on the picket line outside of BUTE building. We are constituted of staff in both JOMEC and ARCHI, and across academic, professional and administrative roles.

It has come to our attention that there will be a gathering of Russell Group Vice Chancellors on Thursday and we hope to be able to inform your position ahead of that meeting.

First and foremost, we wish to highlight that we care passionately about our students, our research, and the university community. We want to get back to work and our continued action is being taken reluctantly. We are reassured that UUK are ready and willing to resume negotiations and we stand behind our UCU negotiators as they continue to represent us.

We are also hopeful, not least because today we have seen evidence that there may be room for some manoeuvre in the Pensions Regulator’s position (as recognised by the Financial Times’ Pensions expert Josephine Cumbo and others). We encourage you to work with the other VCs to draw on alternative proposals that the Pensions Regulator will approve. From our perspective, a timely resolution to this dispute rests almost entirely on arriving at a more acceptable and academically robust independent valuation which is grounded in a methodology we can trust. Much of the relevant evidence that has been unearthed over the course of this dispute will be instructive in this process. We feel the kind of deal we would be able to support would need to assure us of the immediate restoration of the status quo until such time as a new valuation is done.

Yesterday, the membership of our Union – including here in Cardiff – roundly rejected a ‘deal’ we could not accept. We saw it as effectively signalling the end of the Defined Benefit scheme and were dismayed to see talk of a move to a Collective Defined Contribution scheme. The changes to percentiles, thresholds and inflation indexing were extremely puzzling given that such major questions had been raised about the valuation, and about the UUK methodology in assessing the will to change amongst its own members. The ambition of the ‘deal’ that teaching disrupted by the industrial action should be rescheduled was read as inflammatory in the extreme. We had fought too long and hard to concede so much; and even our students were telling us not to accept.

We very much hope that this detail is informative in preparing for the meeting, and that a positive and swift resolution can be found.