University strike action despite collaboration ''disappointing'', UUK says

Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) employers have stood by recent reforms to the pension scheme, arguing that they were a "viable and affordable solution to a difficult situation".

In a media briefing, Universities UK (UUK) president, Professor Steve West, argued that "action needed to be taken if employers and scheme members alike were to avoid the imposition of such expensive increases from the USS trustee".

West also stated that while it “is never an easy decision to change people’s pensions…ignoring the problem and hoping it will go away was not the answer".

USS employers have faced calls to reverse the reforms amid recent funding improvements, with the latest monitoring update suggesting that the retroactive restoration would cost around £0.5bn per year.

However, West said that while the apparent funding improvements are "clearly welcome news", the USS trustee has made clear that these monitoring reports are not comparable to a full valuation, and that the reports should only be viewed as a broad direction of travel.

"The funding position is also fragile, reflective of the broader economy and the global prospects for growth," he continued. "The USS trustee has said that, given the high volatility of the financial markets, it does not believe there are grounds to alter contribution levels or benefits ahead of the next full valuation - scheduled for 31 March 2023."

West also expressed disappointment that the University College Union (UCU) has proceeded with its plans for industrial action later this month, in light of ongoing collaborative work between the organisations.

He stated: "Employers want to work collaboratively with UCU to find ways to fast-track the next valuation so that any positive changes for scheme members can be delivered as quickly as possible.

"We’re already working with UCU ahead of the next valuation, including through a newly established technical forum looking at some of the detailed aspects and assumptions to feed into that.

"Work also includes production of an accelerated valuation timeline, exploring scheme redesign and ways of making the scheme more flexible and appealing to staff by, for example, allowing them to pay lower rates of pension contributions for a short time period."

More broadly, West reassured students that "universities are well prepared to mitigate the impact of any industrial action on students’ learning".

He continued: "To put this into context though; there are over 200,000 members in the USS pension scheme and only 24,239 (of 47,567 balloted by UCU) voted to strike. This means only around 1 in 10 of those in USS voted to take strike action.

"We sincerely hope UCU will reconsider this action. It is not too late for it to be averted. We continue to talk to the union in an attempt to reach an agreement.

"In relation to the pensions dispute, the most productive thing we can do for scheme members is to work constructively together moving forward to ensure a sustainable scheme for the future."

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