Defined Benefit  

University staff to go ahead with strike over pensions

University staff to go ahead with strike over pensions

The Universities and College Union (UCU) has announced 14 days of strikes across 61 universities following a pensions dispute.

The strikes will begin on Thursday 22 February, and will run over a four-week period that will begin with a five-day walkout either side of a weekend, the trade union said. The last day of planned strike is Friday 16 March.

The current pension fund, the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), is the largest private sector pension scheme in the country.

It has a defined benefit (DB) and a defined contribution (DC) section, but would become a full DC fund as part of plans published in November by Universities UK, which represents 350 universities.

Sally Hunt, the UCU’s general secretary, said: "Staff who have delivered the international excellence universities boast of are understandably angry at efforts to slash their pensions.

"They feel let down by vice-chancellors who seem to care more about defending their own pay and perks than the rights of their staff.

"Strike action on this scale has not been seen before on UK campuses, but universities need to know the full scale of the disruption they will be hit with if they refuse to sort this mess out."

The USS covers the majority of staff mainly in the older "pre-1992 universities" including Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh and Imperial.

There have been concerns about the scheme's £12.6bn deficit, with employers and members warned they may need to increase contributions by up to 7 per cent to maintain their current benefits.

But this is beyond what universities are willing to pay and Frank Field, chairman of the work and pensions select committee, has written to ministers, The Pensions Regulator and the trustees of the scheme to understand why its deficit has increased £7.3bn in three years.

The UCU has said a DC scheme could lead to a final pension worth only around 20 per cent of the "best" DB schemes.

Industrial action was backed by 88 per cent of UCU members. Some 93 per cent backed action short of a strike, with a turnout of 58 per cent, the union said.

A spokesperson for Universities UK said: “Changes to USS pensions have been agreed by the Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC). 

"That decision is a necessary step, made in the best interests of university staff, to put USS on a sustainable footing for the long-term. The scheme will continue to offer attractive pensions through market-leading defined contribution benefits."

Any changes to the rules of the scheme need to be decided on through the JNC, which has an equal number of representatives from Universities UK and UCU. 

But following a series of meetings to discuss USS reform with UCU, a negotiated settlement could not be found.

Analysis by First Actuarial, which compared the pension of a lecturer starting work today under the new proposals for the scheme, concluded that staff could be £200,000 worse off in retirement.