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Universities set out plans for radical changes to staff pensions

14 October 2014

UCU's ballot for industrial action to oppose changes closes on Monday

UCU said today that its ballot for industrial action is still running after universities set out plans for the reform of staff pensions.

The umbrella group Universities UK set out plans to get rid of the final salary element of the Universities Superannuation Scheme and introduce a riskier defined contribution pension scheme, with those in or aspiring to the highest academic grades still suffering most.

USS is the pension scheme for staff at the UK's 'old' universities and covers the most selective institutions including the Russell Group of universities. The ballot opened on Wednesday 1 October and closes on Monday (20 October).

UCU said it will be asking members at 69 universities to back plans for a marking boycott and to refuse to set exams. The action would stop students being set coursework or receiving formal marks and feedback, as well as halting exams.

The changes have been prompted by an expected deficit in USS. However, UCU says the methodology used to determine the deficit is too simplistic and doesn't take account of the scheme's underlying strengths.

Since 2011, when the last set of detrimental changes to members' pensions were made, the fund's investments have grown by £8bn, the number of members has grown by 18% and returns on investment have outperformed both average earnings and inflation.

University and College Union head of bargaining, Michael MacNeil, said: 'We do not accept the way the scheme's deficit is being valued or share the overly cautious and pessimistic view, which has prompted these plans for deep cuts to pension provision.

'Like UUK we want a solution that protects the pensions of staff and ensures the scheme remains attractive to new members of the profession. But what the UUK proposals try to do is substantially shift risk from big institutions on to our individual members' shoulders.

'Staff see their pensions as deferred pay and these changes could dramatically alter people's retirement plans. We have made it very clear in this ballot that if members back industrial action, and there is no negotiated solution, we will be looking to quickly move to an assessment and exam boycott. The ballot closes on Monday.' 

Last updated: 10 December 2015