An update from the Vice-Chancellor about two separate UCU ballots next week as part of the ongoing dispute on pay and pensions.

Dear colleagues,

I am writing to let you know that UCU will launch two separate ballots next week as part of its ongoing dispute on pay and pensions. A mandate achieved in either ballot could result in industrial action as early as November, or at any time until 4 May 2022.

In summary, UCU is calling for:

  • The UUK proposal to reform the benefits of the USS pension scheme to be scrapped, and a new valuation of the scheme to be undertaken to take account of improved market conditions since 2020
  • Higher increases in pay than the 1.5% uplift (rising to 3.6% for lower earners) recently implemented, and improvements to a range of working conditions.

I understand the strength of feeling that exists across the sector on both of these issues – especially given the personal and professional sacrifices that so many staff have made during the pandemic. Many will now be considering whether to make further sacrifices in the coming weeks and months if industrial action goes ahead, and I know how hard and stressful that would be.

However, I am extremely concerned at what a fresh round of industrial action would do to our students’ education after 18 extremely difficult months. We have just started a new academic year that has the potential to offer the kind of learning experiences that undergraduates and postgraduates would have expected before Covid. Many will be understandably anxious at the prospect of another disrupted year.

I am also worried about the impact strikes would have on us as a community, and our ability to work together to manage the continuing challenges posed by the pandemic. The past year and a half has been difficult for us all, but we have come together, first in our response to the immediate shock of Covid, and now in ways that ensure teaching, research and supporting activities can take place in person across the University. Whatever the outcome of the ballots – and we are likely to know by the second week of November – we must all be tolerant and understanding of each other, however strongly held our views are.

I also want you to know that the University is working with our unions on a number of issues related to pay and pensions – albeit within a range of external constraints. Our joint campaign with Cambridge UCU to push for an alternative scheme design for USS, which could put the scheme on a sustainable footing, now has the backing of UUK, UCU and the USS trustee. Our Chief Financial Officer Anthony Odgers talks more about this in his latest update on the 2020 valuation. We are also making provision to more than double the funding available for the Academic Career Pathways and Professorial Pay Review reward schemes, and are reviewing rewards schemes for non-academic staff.

We are committed to working with our unions – as we are with other employers and representatives across the sector – on these important issues.

With best wishes,

Professor Stephen J Toope