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Action for USS

13 December 2019

UCU members have already taken serious and sustained industrial action in the face of damaging proposals from the employers which would effectively destroy the USS pension scheme. But the fight is not over!

Demand USS pensions justice!

  • In 2018, the employers wanted to end guaranteed pension benefits altogether.
  • They said your final pension should depend on how your 'investments' perform and not on your contributions.
  • We said it's wrong to risk our members' futures, so you stopped them.
  • They then got you to pay more for your existing pension, and in 2022, they brutally cut your pension by 35%.
  • It's time, once again, to make a stand. Revoke the cuts, defend our pensions.

Key member updates

£100k bonus for USS chief executive 'disgraceful'

UCU has responded to the announcement by Universities UK of a review into USS governance.

UCU today confirmed it will move ahead with plans to ballot staff in disputes over pay & conditions and pensions. The higher education committee (HEC) met today and authorised a ballot of all higher education members in late summer with strikes to follow in the November, along with further ballots for industrial action in spring 2023.  

For the first time in the two disputes the ballot will be aggregated, meaning that if UCU achieves an overall turnout of 50% or above and a majority YES vote, all universities across the UK will be hit by strike action.

New research has been published which outlines the impact of cuts to USS. The research in an online journal hosted by Cornell University, shows that global loss across current USS scheme members is £16-18 billion, with those under the age of 40 losing between £100k-200k each in retirement. It also shows that 196,000 staff will lose between 30 - 35% from their guaranteed future retirement income, showing again that Universities UK grossly underestimated the level of its cuts. Read the full story: UCU responds to new research into impact of cuts to university pensions

Delegates at the annual HE sector conference voted for a massive escalation of industrial action. All branches in the USS and Four Fights disputes will be balloted over taking industrial action that would impact both the induction weeks this autumn as well as spring 2023. Delegates also voted for the ballots to be conducted in an 'aggregated' format, meaning that the 50% turnout threshold, and consequently which branches would be called to take action, would encompass the entire voting membership.

UCU's higher education committee (HEC) will consider the conference resolutions on Friday 1 July, and this will be preceded by a branch delegate meeting where branches can feed in to the HEC's decisions. All HE members are asked to engage in branch meetings called to discuss the disputes.

USS's latest financial monitoring report shows assets have increased by £22.3bn since the scheme's last valuation in March 2020. UCU general secretary Jo Grady said that after the cuts that employers forced through left staff with no option but to take strike action 'it would be in the sector's best interests for employers to begin working with us and to use the scheme's vastly improved financial performance to give staff a fair deal'.

Members at more than 20 universities will proceed to a marking boycott on 23 May despite threats of 100% pay deductions from some rogue bosses. The boycott means university staff will stop marking work, returning marks and setting or sitting exams and coursework. The graduations of well over 100,00 students are set to be disrupted: University marking boycott begins despite 'lock out' threats

UCU general secretary Jo Grady had earlier updated members on the latest decisions made by HEC and UCU's officers.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady today confirmed that a marking and assessment boycott will begin from Monday 23 May. You can see the institutions involved here.

The dispute over changes to USS will be escalated to include a boycott of marking and assessments. The decision was made by delegates at a meeting of UCU's special higher education sector conference. It follows a decision made by delegates in the pay and working conditions dispute, who also backed a marking boycott and to keep both disputes coupled.

The timetable for the marking and assessment boycott in both disputes which will be communicated with members on Friday 6 May.

Delegates have also voted to hit universities with ten days of strike action.

Members in 24 institutions have voted to continue strike and action short of strike action over the USS dispute.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said, everything that has happened during this dispute has reinforced that the cuts imposed by employers are unnecessary.

The key decisions about what to do on the back of these results will be taken by delegates to the upcoming higher education sector conference.

On 28 February 2022 the Trustees of USS approved changes to the pension scheme that came into effect on 1 April 2022.

  • the salary threshold for the Retirement Income Builder part of the scheme will reduce from £59,883.65 to £40,000
  • the accrual rate for the Retirement Income Builder will reduce from 1/75th to 1/85th

UCU's negotiating team worked tirelessly to try to prevent these cuts from being made and will continue to defend your pension rights.

UCU demanded vice-chancellors order their employer body UUK to revoke brutal cuts to pensions after a drastic improvement to the USS finances was revealed by the trustee. This comes after a new report by the trustee which manages the scheme reported that assets increased to over £88bn. Growth has now outstripped liabilities and the level of contributions required to service the deficit has now fallen to 0%.

UCU warned of a staff exodus from UK universities after two-thirds of university staff said they are considering leaving the sector within five years over cuts to pensions and deteriorating pay and working conditions. The finding comes from a new UCU report UK higher education - a workforce in crisis [217kb], based on a survey of almost 7,000 university staff at over 100 institutions. 

A third wave of strike action began today over the employers' decision to slash staff pensions. In a message to members on the eve of the action, UCU general secretary Jo Grady said the employers' treatment of their staff is causing material and reputational damage to the sector.

The new ballots over cuts to USS pensions opened today across the UK. UCU said the ballots, which close on Friday 8 April, will pave the way for action to continue throughout the remainder of 2022.

New industrial action ballots over the USS pensions dispute, and also over deteriorating pay and conditions, will open on 16 March. The new ballots over strike action and action short of strike (ASOS) are taking place because the current mandates to take industrial action will end on 3 May at many universities. Successful reballots will allow staff to continue taking action through this calendar year.

UCU today announced a further five days of strike action beginning this month unless vice chancellors revoke pension cuts and meet staff demands over pay and working conditions.

The action will take place over two weeks, with members in 39 universities taking action from Monday 21 March to Friday 25 March, with members in a further 29 universities taking action from Monday 28 March to Friday 1 April.

As part of the ongoing disputes, all branches will also be reballoted soon in preparation for potential industrial action next term.

Read more:

UCU has told university employers to expect more industrial action, including a marking and assessment boycott, after UUK's proposals that will lead to devastating cuts to USS pensions were ratified at a meeting of the JNC today: Dispute 'far from over' says UCU as employers force through pension cuts

In a message to members, UCU general secretary Jo Grady said the higher education committee will consider escalating action on USS when it meets on Friday, which could include launching a marking and assessment boycott: Dispute 'far from over' says UCU as employers force through pension cuts

Responding to news that university vice chancellors have rejected UCU's compromise proposals even though the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) deficit has shrunk by around 80%, UCU said today that there is no justification for pension cuts.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: 'The funding update from USS shows that the deficit on which devastating cuts to our pensions are premised has shrunk by around 80% while the scheme's assets have soared to more than £90bn. The weak justification for university bosses' attack on staff pensions has now completely evaporated.'

Over the weekend Jo reported that UUK said the majority of employers still want to impose the cuts.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady reported today that Universities UK (UUK) has now dropped their factually incorrect claims about UCU's proposals to end the dispute. However, she said that UUK has continued to make a number of inaccurate claims, and set out a detailed rebuttal.

Today strike action over the USS pensions' dispute kicked off ten days of walkouts at universities across the UK over the devastating cuts to pensions, with strikes over deteriorating pay & working conditions set to begin next week. UCU said university leaders have 'failed staff and students'. UCU general secretary Jo Grady also said the strikes were totally avoidable, but 'university employers have so far failed to accept compromise proposals put forward by UCU'.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady has warned members that Universities UK (UUK) has been misrepresenting UCU's proposals to employers. She writes 'in the last couple of days since USS formally confirmed that UCU's proposals for resolving the USS dispute could be implemented, we have seen some outrageous misrepresentations [by UUK] of what the proposals actually involve', adding there is a risk that, even if they issue corrections, 'there is a risk that UUK's misrepresentations will have an impact on how your employer responds to the consultation which UUK is currently conducting on our proposals'.

At the latest meeting of the USS joint negotiating committee ahead of strike action commencing on Monday the employers refused to confirm that they would accept our viable and implementable pension proposals. In a message to members, UCU general secretary Jo Grady also revealed there was now a 'nationally orchestrated move by employers to bully and intimidate UCU members' with threats to deduct up to 100% of the pay of members taking legal ASOS action.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said today that USS has now officially confirmed that UCU's proposals to protect benefits in return for slightly higher employer and member contributions are capable of implementation.

UCU has warned hardline university bosses that they could be hit with additional strike action if they go ahead with 100% deductions in pay for staff taking action short of a strike (ASOS): Staff warn rogue university bosses to prepare for more strike action over pay deductions

In response to a new UUK consultation of its members on modified USS scheme proposals, UCU general secretary Jo Grady said 'It is deeply disappointing that... the best employers can offer is a temporary suspension of a cap on inflationary increases which, when lifted, would devastate the retirement benefits of thousands of scheme members.'

Also today, UCU's national disputes committee (NDC) gave its strong support for UCU's strike action. In a statement published today [142kb] they say that 'the withdrawal of our labour is absolutely essential if we are to save the USS pension scheme. We continue to endorse the mutual reinforcement of the Four Fights and USS disputes as the two sets of objectives are intrinsically interlinked and coupling greatly increases our leverage on the employers'. NDC also stated their gratitude to 'students, our communities and members across our union and the trade union movement for their solidarity'.

New strike dates have been announced in the dispute over pay and conditions. Members in striking branches are being asked to walk out from 14 to 18 February and again on 21 & 22 February in the following week.

UCU today issued a set of new USS pension proposals aimed at averting widespread industrial action across the UK.

In a letter to the chair of the USS Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC), the body which decides how the USS pension scheme is managed, UCU general secretary Jo Grady called for the new proposals to be formally tabled and put to a vote of employer and staff representatives when the committee sits next month. The proposals call on the employers to back:

  • a new, sensible evidence-based valuation
  • a revised cost-sharing approach for one year with small increases to member and employer contributions to protect benefits
  • a limit on future member contributions of no more than 9.8%.

Read the full story on the proposals here.

Universities will see further strike action in February unless employers meet UCU's demands over USS. UCU's higher education committee (HEC), authorised sustained industrial action at a meeting on 19 January, which will include coordinated UK wide and regional rolling strikes. Specific strike dates are to be confirmed shortly. HEC also agreed to begin preparations for a UK wide marking and assessment boycott, which would see staff refusing to undertake marking and assessment duties:

Members at another 12 universities have voted in favour of joining industrial action over attacks on pay, pensions & working conditions. Thus bring the total number of instutitons affected to 68.

General secretary Jo Grady told members this is a strong, unequivocal YES vote by members to take action against the employers' impending cuts on our USS pensions.

UCU's higher education committee (HEC) meets on 19 January to decide the next steps, following a branch delegates' meeting to feed in members' views.

UCU's higher education committee (HEC) decided to escalate action short of a strike (ASOS) over the USS and Four Fights disputes. Notice has been served on higher education employers where there is a live ASOS mandate and, with immediate effect, ASOS will consist of: 

  • working to contract
  • not covering for absent colleagues
  • removing uploaded materials related to, and/or not sharing materials related to, lectures or classes that will be or have been cancelled as a result of strike action
  • not rescheduling classes and lectures cancelled due to strike action
  • not undertaking any voluntary activities. 

The HE disputes FAQ has been updated to include the union's latest advice on ASOS.

Three consecutive days of strike action began today after university bosses and their representatives refused to withdraw pension cuts.

After notifying vice chancellors that staff would take strike action unless they saw movement, UCU continued to meet with employer representatives Universities UK (UUK) over pension cuts, but UUK refused to reverse them.

Read more:

UCU has accused employer body Universities UK (UUK) of 'seriously misleading' vice-chancellors over pension cuts which UUK had claimed would amount to between 10% and 18%. A modeller by the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) indicates that cuts to guaranteed, defined benefit pensions built up in the future would amount to 41% for a USS member earning around £39k, a typical lecturer salary. Overall, once the non-guaranteed, defined contribution element of the scheme is taken into account, the same member would lose 31% of their annual pension when they retire, which would worsen to 36% after 20 years in retirement: Vice chancellors misled over pension cuts by own employer body, new data shows

UCU has warned that up to 100 universities could face disruption in the new year if the dispute over changes to USS is not resolved after it was announced that members at 42 universities will be asked to back strike action in fresh ballots that open on Monday 6 December and close on Friday 14 January. The reballots come after a number of branches narrowly missed the Conservative's anti-trade union turnout threshold, in some cases by only one or two votes: it was announced today

Industrial action over the changes to USS pensions will begin on 1 December, it was announced today. Strike action will run for three days from Wednesday 1 December to Friday 3 December, and the higher education committee has decided to call action short of a strike (ASOS) from 1 December, starting with working to contract only.

In a message to members, UCU general secretary Jo Grady said 'Employers are doubling down on their completely unacceptable positions... We are at an impasse and nothing will change for the better unless UCU members put on a massive show of strength in those three days of strike action and accompanying ASOS': Industrial action starts on 1 December

UCU has written to university employer representatives outlining what university vice chancellors have to do to avoid industrial action in the next few weeks, escalating into spring and beyond: UCU writes to university bosses setting out how to avoid pre-Christmas campus strikes

Read also the latest from the general secretary on next steps.

Members have backed strike action in a ballot over cuts to pensions. Overall, 76% of UCU members who voted backed strike action. 88% voted in favour of action short of strike: UCU members back strikes over pension cuts

See the full results here

The University of Edinburgh's vice-principal has stated that the university has achieved a larger than expected surplus, 'first and foremost' because of lower than expected employer contributions to USS pensions, a development he described as 'fantastic news'. UCU general secretary Jo Grady wrote to members questioning whether a university's surplus could ever be 'fantastic news' when it comes at the cost of a decent retirement?

She also shared with members that USS has finally made it possible for active scheme members to get a full picture of what their own benefits will look like under the employers' cuts, by releasing a new modeller as part of their consultation process. Jo said it reinforces the deeply worrying picture provided by our own modeller released back in May.

After taking detailed advice from a leading pensions QC, UCU has written to the chief executive of USS, Bill Galvin setting out a range of concerns about the valuation process. UCU believes that USS may have breached its own scheme rules in a way that has materially impacted the ability of employers and members to negotiate an acceptable outcome. Read more on the legal situation from Jo Grady.

The national dispute ballots open today. Ballot papers will be sent via first class post. Please return them quickly. For more information and for resources to help get the vote out, please go to our HE disputes.

On the eve of the national dispute ballots opening, UCU general secretary Jo Grady has emailed HE members: Your ballot papers arrive this week: vote YES to industrial action

Jo also spoke with student newspaper The Tab about why UCU members are taking action, asking why 'university managers, year after year, are happy to let chaos reign in the sector'.

UCU said today that Universities UK should show they are serious about reforming USS by withdrawing their cuts and agreeing to a new valuation of the scheme instead of wasting time on ridiculous PR moves: UUK must withdraw pension cuts if they want to avoid strikes, says UCU

Intense preparations for the USS pension ballot is under way. The key dates are as follows:

  • Monday 18 October: ballot packs will be dispatched by Civica Election Services to UCU HE members via 1st class post, with 1st class prepaid envelope enclosed
  • Friday 22 October-Thursday 28 October (5pm): online replacement ballot request form opens
  • Thursday 4 November (12 noon): ballot closes.

Further details on ballot timetable and activities have been sent out to all branch officers; please contact your branch and volunteer to 'get the vote out' (GTVO). We will be in touch again very soon with updates, resources, FAQs, and campaign events.

We are also planning to produce a series of videos which capture the lives of members in higher education, and how they are affected by degraded pay, casualisation, equality failings and more. Please get in touch with the UCU press team if you would like to be involved!

UCU general secretary Jo Grady has announced the timetable for action on both USS and Four Fights disputes, saying 'we have tried to negotiate and compromise with employers, but they haven't even met us half way. So, we have no option but to escalate and try to win change through collective action.'  Ballots will open on Monday 18 October. Members are urged to check their membership information and postal address is up-to-date by logging in to  My UCU.

A special higher education sector conference (HESC) held on 9 September 2021 has called for an industrial action ballot over the changes imposed to USS pensions, alongside a ballot over the employers' final 2021-22 pay offer.

To summarise, the special HESC agreed to:

  • instruct HEC to declare a dispute with UUK over USS
  • ballot all USS members for industrial action to defend a defined benefit USS scheme
  • take industrial action (including strike and action short of strike action) in the autumn term
  • initiate exploration of the feasibility of conditional benefits and conditional indexation
  • continue the Four Fights campaign (pay, workload, casualisation, equality)
  • ballot all HE members for industrial action in support of Four Fights
  • coordinate the USS and Four Fights ballots
  • take industrial action in pursuit of the Four Fights beginning in November
  • coordinate the campaign with sister unions
  • prepare a 'Get The Vote Out' operation.

There will be a special meeting of the higher education committee on Monday 20 September to discuss the outcomes of the conference and agree the next steps. Following that meeting of HEC we will communicate further with members including details on a clear timetable for the ballots and any resulting industrial action, as well as how they can get involved in the campaign.

Employers force through plans to cut university retirement benefits: UCU says industrial action in universities is now 'inevitable' after employer body Universities UK (UUK) voted to push ahead with its proposals to cut thousands of pounds from the retirement benefits of university staff. UCU general secretary Jo Grady has updated members on what happens next.

UCU responds to UUK announcement on USS support that they will agree to more support for the Universities Superannuation Scheme by saying that while this is welcome, it does nothing to address the hole in UUK's proposals which will see scheme members suffer cuts to their pension benefits. UCU general secretary Jo Grady said that UUK still needs to work with us to push USS to carry out a new moderately prudent 2021 valuation and abandon its flawed 2020 valuation 'which has consistently led to unjustified and unnecessary demands to either slash benefits, increaser contributions, or both'.

The higher education committee has called a special sector conference on 9 September 2021 to discuss the current disputes and developments in higher education, including those relating to USS. Members are asked to please keep engaged with branch meetings which will feed into the conference.

UCU has slammed Universities UK after it used the results of an employer consultation to back swingeing cuts to USS pensions which would wipe thousands off retirement funds, calling the results a 'PR exercise readying the ground for further cuts'. UUK has failed to publish full details of its proposals or individual employer responses.

UCU branches have also been asked to call emergency general meetings before 30 June after key decisions over the major issues facing the sector were taken at the recent higher education sector conference. Member participation in this process is critical in order to inform the next higher education committee meeting on 2 July, where they will decide how we proceed with our campaign over pensions.

UCU launches a pensions modeller to illustrate the benefits members will build up under UUK's proposals compared with the current arrangement. A typical member on a lecturer's salary, aged 37, will suffer a 35% loss to the guaranteed retirement benefits which they will build up over the rest of their career. You can learn more about the implications in our press release. UCU general secretary Jo Grady argues that the employers have not given staff meaningful, personalised information about the financial impact these cuts could have.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady has provided a brief update for members on the current USS situation, which includes details of a details of a new Q&A.

UUK is proposing massive cuts to USS members' retirement benefits and is consulting employers on whether to not to endorse them. UCU general secretary Jo Grady writes to members about the implications and how we can unite to stop any further cuts being imposed.

UCU accuses Universities UK (UUK) of proposing unnecessary and damaging cuts to USS pensions at a time when the scheme and the universities supporting it could afford to take a more progressive approach. This was in reaction to UUK's consultation of employers on their response to the contribution rates proposed by the USS Trustee for the 2020 valuation.

Pension advisors First Actuarial have also provided the union with new guidance on the valuation of the USS scheme covering funding and prudence and security of accrued benefits.

The higher education employers' body Universities UK (UUK) has written to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) Trustee calling for a review of the scheme valuation and has questioned the role of the Pensions Regulator (£).

UCU general secretary Jo Grady writes to members about the approach of the USS trustees announced in response to the 2020 scheme valuation. The employer representative, Universities UK, is now consulting employers on their response to the announcement, after which UCU will hold a special sector conference to discuss our next steps.

UCU said the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) has produced a report that risks endangering a healthy pension scheme. The USS's trustee update on the 2020 valuation said that for the scheme to remain sustainable the combined employer/employee contribution rate will need to rise from the current 30.7% to as much as 56% in a worst case scenario. In response, UCU general secretary Jo Grady pointed to flaws in the valuation of the scheme, which include USS having an overly pessimistic view of the higher education sector and not taking proper account of its growing asset base.

Read the full story: UCU response to USS trustee update

UCU is calling on employers in the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) to join it in demanding a change of approach to the ongoing 2020 valuation of the pension scheme.

This comes after the Oxford UCU branch and the University of Oxford wrote a joint letter to USS chief executive Bill Galvin, raising concerns over the scheme's valuation, following a similar joint letter by Cambridge UCU and the University of Cambridge in December. Last month, 3,874 people also signed a letter of complaint to USS.

UCU welcomed the approach taken by both universities and said more employers should work with their local UCU branches to challenge USS's approach.

Read the full story: UCU calls for more universities to join fight for fair pensions

USS has now started to consult employers on the technical provisions for its 2020 valuation. UCU general secretary Jo Grady said 'This is a critical moment, as each employer now has a chance to give their view on USS's proposals. As things stand, those proposals would lead to massive increases in the cost of our pensions'.

UCU said it had no confidence in the 'needlessly cautious' approach taken by the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) in its valuation of the pension scheme: UCU response to Universities Superannuation Scheme 2020 valuation

Read what led up to the current dispute here.



    Last updated: 10 August 2022