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Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) Pension Changes 

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IMPORTANT: Aston’s position on USS proposals and strike action

You will be aware that Aston is one of 64 higher education institutions in the UK to be affected by 14 days of strikes called by the University and College Union (UCU), commencing 22 February 2018. The action is a response to proposed changes to the USS pension scheme, which currently faces a deficit of several billion pounds. If the changes are implemented, it will effectively mean that all pension contributions for the foreseeable future will accrue on a ‘defined contribution’ arrangement.

View full document from Alec Cameron, Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive

Open letter to all USS pension scheme members from the UUK 22 February 2018

Concluding the 2017 valuation update

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Industrial action by UCU – Frequently Asked Questions:

Universities UK, the national body representing higher education institutions, and the University and College Union (UCU) have been taking positions around the future of the USS pension scheme. It is currently running a very significant deficit, estimated at several billions of pounds, and the two parties have been negotiating on how to resolve this to protect the long-term future of the scheme.

The USS Joint Negotiating Committee has voted to consult on reforms where members would accrue all future benefits in the USS Investment Builder, what is known as the ‘defined contribution’ part of the scheme, until further review. UCU is against this proposal, and as a result staff at 64 universities across the UK have voted in favour of strike action.

UCU is planning to hold strikes at 61 universities across the UK on the following days:

  • Thursday 22nd February to Friday 23rd February 2018
  • Monday 26th February to Wednesday 28th February 2018
  • Monday 5th March to Thursday 8th March 2018
  • Monday 12th March to Friday 16th March 2018

We expect that there will be some picket lines around campus, however, they will not prevent people who want to go to work from doing so, or from students getting to and from classes.

In addition, UCU has asked its members to participate in ‘action short of a strike’ from 22 February until no later than 19 June 2018. This action may include – working to contract; not covering for absent colleagues; not rescheduling lectures or classes cancelled due to strike action and not undertaking any voluntary activities.

The University has written to all members of staff making clear that while it respects the right to strike, it is vital that we maintain a first class learning experience for our students and minimise disruption.

Less than 10 per cent of Aston staff voted for industrial action, however, it is difficult for the University to get an accurate picture of what the impact might be. The University has asked staff who intend to take action to let them know in advance to help minimise the impact on students, but they are not legally required to do so.

Under Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) rules, the University has a contract with students to offer them the learning and support they signed up to. As such, every member of staff has a duty to make arrangements to ensure industrial action does not have a negative impact on any student’s performance, no matter whether they intend to strike or not.

The Deputy Vice-Chancellor has formed a working group including representatives from each of the Schools and other relevant departments to ensure that appropriate arrangements are made to minimise any disruption that may affect students. 

The Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) is a national pension scheme for both academic and non-academic university staff. Its members mainly work at pre-1992 universities. At Aston, staff at grade seven and above are eligible to become members.

Staff on grade six or below who pay into a pension scheme are not affected.

The national Joint Negotiating Committee has agreed to consult on reforms where members would accrue all future benefits in the USS Investment Builder, what is known as the ‘defined contribution’ part of the scheme.

Defined contribution pensions build up a pension pot using your individual contributions and the University’s contributions plus investment returns and tax relief. The fund is usually invested in stocks and shares, along with other investments, with the aim of growing it over the years before you retire.

Universities UK, the national body representing higher education institutions, believes this change is vital in order to manage the deficit USS is currently running without having to draw money away from core resources such as teaching and research. 

We understand the position of UCU members who voted for strike action and that of other members of USS who are concerned about the future of their personal pension. We will be providing independent information to all of our affected staff so they can participate in the forthcoming consultation in full knowledge of what the outcomes for them might be.

The University also, however, has a duty to all our employees many of whom are not USS members, and to our students who largely fund our activities and our salaries. If we were to increase employer contributions to USS this contribution would come directly from our budget and surplus. Any increase would mean we would not be able to invest in recruiting more academic and support staff, we would not be able to support an excellent student experience and we would be more financially exposed.

It is possible some larger and richer institutions might take a different view, but at Aston our view is that we cannot afford or justify a higher rate of employer funding.

The University respects that every member of staff has the right to go on strike if they wish, and will not condone any discrimination against employees who decide to take action.

As some staff may be considering whether to support the industrial action it is the University’s duty to articulate the impact on individuals participating in such action. We do this in the spirit of transparency and clarity. For salaried staff participating in strike action at Aston, pay will be deducted at the rate of 1/365 of salary for each day. 

The University respects that staff have no legal obligation to declare whether they intend to strike, however, letting HR know at the earliest opportunity will help the University minimise the impact on students. Where staff do choose to take industrial action they are required to notify the University immediately after each period.

If you are a member of a pension scheme, it is assumed that your union will advise you on the implications for your pension cover if you decide to take part in the industrial action.

As this is a national strike, and Aston has a number of media organisations located nearby, it is possible that you may see members of the media covering the story on strike days.

The University respects the right of all staff to share their view with the media if they wish to. Equally, it is important that all staff understand that they have no obligation to do this if asked.