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Oxford University opens its own ballot in rejection of 'sham' pensions consultation process

8 December 2010 | last updated: 11 December 2015

The University of Oxford has today launched a ballot on proposed sweeping changes to the staff pension scheme. The move follows a vote by the university to ensure both sides of the argument around changes to the scheme are heard.

There is an increasingly bitter battle over changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) pension scheme and the current consultation process (rejected by Oxford) taking place in universities has been labelled a 'sham' by UCU.
The national employers' representatives want to move all new entrants off the final-salary scheme and on to a career-average earnings scheme, introduce detrimental changes for anyone who has a break of more than six months in their employment, and limit annual inflation-proofing pension increases.
UCU says it recognises that some changes are needed in order to ensure the stability of the pension fund. However, the union does not believe the employers' drastic proposals are required for the long-term viability of the scheme and fears the changes would create a two-tier system that could damage recruitment and retention in UK universities.
After Sir Andrew Cubie used his casting vote as independent chairman of the USS Joint Negotiating Committee to decide in favour of the employers' proposals, USS was legally required to run a consultation on them. UCU argued that the fairest and easiest way to consult with all scheme members was through a ballot on both sets of proposed changes.
USS refused and instead set up a process in which individual members, having only been sent the changes proposed by the employers, were invited to feedback their thoughts to their institution indirectly (via an online consultation).
Oxford University rejected that process, as did Cambridge University. On Tuesday 30 November, Oxford's Congregation - the university's 'parliament' and highest decision-making body – passed, by a very large majority, a resolution for there to be a consultative ballot on the alternative proposals. In addition, the resolution requires the university to seek further information from USS and to request USS to restart the consultation after that information is made available.
UCU president-elect, Terry Hoad, a Fellow of St Peter's College, said: 'In both Oxford and Cambridge, which have democratic systems of self-governance, staff have had an opportunity to see both sides of the proposals. It is a real worry that many staff in other universities have been denied this because of their different governance structures.'
UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'Some of our brightest minds have seen this one-sided consultation process for what it really is: a sham. Academics at Oxford agree with us, that when it comes to making changes to something as important as pensions, the process must be fair and proper with all arguments for and against fully explained.'
Oxford's ballot will close at 12noon on Monday 20 December.