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Winning for USS: 2020-24

24 October 2022

UCU members have taken serious and sustained industrial action in the face of damaging changes by the employers which effectively destroyed the USS pension scheme. We are now nearly there with our fight to restore the cuts!

Key member updates

The Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) will cut contribution rates on Monday 1 January.  The announcement comes after UCU and employer representatives voted through changes at the USS Joint Negotiating Committee yesterday that will see employee contributions fall to 6.1%, down from 9.8%. For a member earning £45,000 this will mean a monthly saving of £111 after tax. 

The change is the latest victory in a pension dispute that has seen UCU members take 69 days of strike action since 2018. In February (2024) the deed for restoration and recovery will also be voted on, before being implemented from Monday 1 April 2024.

Read the full story here.

Contribution rate savings per month

The USS joint negotiating committee (JNC) voted on Monday 30 October 2023 to restore member benefits to pre-2022 levels, augment losses suffered during 2022 - 2024 through a £215 pension payment and reduce contribution rates to 6.1% in line with decision taken by UCU members. USS has now contacted all scheme members to inform them of these decisions.

To support members, the UCU superannuation working group (SWG) have produced a video which you can watch on the USS 3Rs - Restoration, Recovery and Rates. We have also provided information here (Google Sheets) that will allow members to calculate the impact of the UCU negotiated outcome on your improved USS retirement income.

UCU members have voted to accept the agreement on USS. An overwhelming 99% of member who voted, voted for the deal, which includes the full restoration of USS pensions.

This means that by 1 April 2024, the 35% cut that was needlessly made to members' future guaranteed retirement incomes will be fully reversed and they will also receive a one-off payment to help make good the money that was lost. The agreement includes other aspects which you can read here. You can also log in and use the USS modeller to see your individualised improvement.

UCU members in USS institutions are being asked to vote, in a formal consultation authorised by the elected representatives on UCU's higher education committee (HEC) on Friday 6 October 2023, on the benefit recovery proposals. The proposal is recommended unanimously by UCU's USS negotiators and by the superannuation working group (SWG), and HEC is recommending that members vote YES (agree) to accept the benefit recovery proposals.

The formal consultation opened on Monday 9 October 2023 and will close on Friday 20 October 2023 at 12 noon, and we will announce results as soon as practicable. UCU members in USS institutions should look out for an email entitled 'IMPORTANT: UCU member consultation on recovery of USS benefits'; each member will get their unique link to vote and can only vote once. 

Click here if you wish to read the text of the consultation (UCU membership number required to log in); this is for reference purposes only.

An update from UCU general secretary Jo Grady regarding the joint statement between Universities UK (UUK) and UCU agreeing to full benefit restoration to pre-April 2022 levels by Monday 1 April 2024, as well as an addition one-off pension payment of around £900m to make up for the benefits that USS members have lost since April 2022. Click here for UCU's press release.

An update from UCU general secretary Jo Grady regarding USS pensions and the employee consultation that has been launched in the morning of 25 September 2023.

UCU's superannuation working group (SWG) has produced a document to help members complete the USS consultation response. We encourage as many members as possible to get involved with this consultation:

It is important to remember that implementation of these proposals will see a return to pre-2022 levels for member benefits. The SWG continues to work on augmentation/recovery of benefits lost during the period 1 April 2022 to 31 March 2024, on lower contribution rates, and on future stability mechanisms to protect members at the next valuations.

Members are updated on the ongoing work by pension negotiators regarding USS pensions and the fight to recover the loss suffered by members over the last two years. 

New figures reveal restoration of cuts on course, alongside lower contributions: USS on course for restored benefits and lower contributions

USS and Capita cyber incident update

Click here for an update from UCU's pensions official (USS) on the work being undertaken following the announcement by USS on 12 May 2023 that details of USS members were held on Capita servers accessed by hackers in March 2023.

Joint statement confirms cuts set to be reversed: In a new joint statement UUK and UCU confirmed that, pending a successful 2023 valuation and the green light from ordinary scheme members, the accrual rate and salary threshold at which defined benefits build up will both be returned to pre-cut levels. The statement also confirmed that the pre-April 2022 inflation protection will continue unchanged, rather than being reduced at the next valuation, as originally intended.

The following video (released by UCU on 23 May 2023) narrates the progress made in the USS pensions dispute and the longer historical context.

The latest monitoring report from the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) trustee shows the cost of restoring benefits is estimated as just 21.8% of salary with the scheme showing a £7.6bn surplus. The report is the latest confirmation that benefits are set to be restored after UCU members voted last month to overwhelmingly accept employer commitments to prioritise pension restoration: Latest pension data confirms university staff on course for historic win

USS and Capita cyber incident

Capita recently reported a cyber incident involving hackers targeting some of its computer servers. While it has been confirmed that USS members' data has not been compromised, USS members' details were held on the Capita servers accessed by the hackers. The information potentially accessed includes: title, initial(s), and name; date of birth; national insurance number; USS member number.

If you are a member of USS pensions, you should have received an email from USS Limited with this information. If you have further questions, you can contact USS at this email address. For the avoidance of doubt, this cyber incident is related to USS Limited's data, not UCU's data.

UCU has today declared a 'historic victory' after members voted overwhelmingly by 85% to move forward with pension proposals agreed with employers, paving the way for benefits to be restored.

The proposals in the Universities Superannuation Scheme pension dispute include commitments from employers to prioritise the restoration of retirement benefits. In April 2022, employers cut the guaranteed future retirement income of the average scheme member by 35%. 

On Wednesday 19 April 2023 UCU formally withdrew the marking and assessment boycott at universities over the USS pensions dispute. This means we are standing down action in the USS dispute while the proposals are progressed.

UCU has served notice to employers of a marking and assessment boycott (MAB) to begin on Thursday 20 April in our USS dispute. This means that from Thursday 20 April members are asked to cease undertaking all summative marking and associated assessment activities/duties. The boycott also covers assessment-related work such as exam invigilation and the processing of marks: find out more information here

UCU announced it has successfully renewed its strike mandate at UK universities for a further six months, telling employers that 'university staff are in the driving seat.'

In the pensions ballot, the yes vote for strike action was 89% and the turnout was 58.4%. The yes vote is up on the previous ballot.

University staff renew strike mandate with historic ballot result

UCU's Higher Education Committee has decided that the proposals in the USS dispute should go out to a full member consultation - this will commence on Tuesday 4 April 2023: Formal consultation on employers' proposals and announcing our reballot result

The latest update from the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) confirms restoring benefits will cost less than employers and staff are currently paying into the pension scheme, UCU has announced. UCU and employer body Universities UK (UUK) have agreed to prioritise reversing the cuts that were made last year. This update allays concerns that recent market volatility would impact the strength of the scheme. It is a welcome indication of stability just days before the formal valuation date of Friday 31 March (2023), which is now expected to confirm benefits can be fully restored, paving the way for employers to do so by April 2024: USS Trustee confirms full pension benefit restoration on course for April 2024

University employers today made an offer in our disputes over pensions, which paves the way for the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) pension to be restored by April 2024: Employers make offers in university disputes

The reballot of members involved in the USS dispute opened today. The reballot is necessary because of the government's anti-trade union legislation which means industrial action mandates must be refreshed every six months (excepting members in Northern Ireland). Ballot papers should start arriving from Wednesday 22 February. Once you've voted, please let us know. A form for members to request a duplicate where papers haven't arrived will open on Tuesday 28 February 2023.

Action paused: UCU Rising: strike paused, campaign continues

UCU today announced significant progress in negotiations with the employers in our USS pension dispute. To allow our ongoing negotiations to continue in a constructive environment UCU has agreed to pause strike action for the next two weeks. We are at the start of a process that will restore USS pensions and potentially lead to a reduction in the percentage of your salary you pay into it every year based on newly published data which supports our case for restoration.

Seventeen further dates of strike action have been called for February and March to follow on from the next strike date of 1 February. The dates are: 

  • Week 1 - Wednesday 1 February  
  • Week 2 - Thursday 9 and Friday 10 February 
  • Week 3 - Tuesday 14, Wednesday 15 and Thursday 16 February 
  • Week 4 - Tuesday 21, Wednesday 22 and Thursday 23 February 
  • Week 5 - Monday 27 and Tuesday 28 February and Wednesday 1 and Thursday 2 March 
  • [No action week commencing Monday 6 March] 
  • Week 6 - Thursday 16 and Friday 17 March 
  • Week 7 - Monday 20, Tuesday 21 and Wednesday 22 March.

It was announced today that members will be called to take strike action on Wednesday 1 February. A further 17 days of strike action is due to take place over February and March. The precise dates are to be announced by the union next week: 70,000 university staff to strike on 1 February

UCU higher education committee (HEC) decided today that members will be called to strike for 18 days between February and March in the disputes over pay, conditions and attacks on pensions. The precise dates of the action will be confirmed next week: Universities to be hit with 18 days of strike action before April

The committee also agreed to re-ballot staff at all 150 universities to renew UCU's mandate and allow the union to call action well into 2023, including a marking and assessment boycott from April, unless the disputes are settled. 

UCU general secretary Jo Grady writes to members with the latest on the latest developments in the USS dispute. She reported:

'Our two grounds for dispute are:

  • that our pension benefits be restored to the position before the cuts were imposed in April 2022
  • that a prudent and evidence-based valuation of the scheme is conducted.

'Plans are currently underway to conduct such a valuation and we are confident that such a valuation would enable USS to restore benefits. However, we have yet to convince Universities UK (UUK) that an immediate restoration of benefits can be undertaken.

'We have been clear with the employers - failure to offer a serious resolution to the disputes will result in further and escalating industrial action in the New Year. While we are approaching talks with the hope of a successful outcome, we cannot pause making plans to escalate just because employers are talking. On this matter I will be in touch next week outlining next steps, our strategy for escalation in the 2023, and your role in that process.'

Further meetings with UUK are  planned and members will be kept updated.

New data shows that the cost of restoring USS benefits has fallen to a new low. The data, from the trustee's latest monitoring report published this week, estimates the cost of restoring benefits is 24.4%, lower than the 31.4% in contributions currently being paid for a package of cuts forced through by  Universities UK (UUK) in April this year. The scheme has recovered since the valuation conducted in March 2020 as markets collapsed, and according to this week's monitoring report now holds a surplus of £5.6bn: Cost of restoring USS pension benefits falls further as scheme surplus increases

Strike action at higher education institutions across the UK started today, with UCU's biggest ever picket lines, as members fight to reverse USS pension cuts. UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: 'Our members deserve a proper pay rise and the money is there to deliver it. Vice-chancellors now need to urgently address the concerns of staff otherwise our 70,000 members will escalate this dispute into next year.'

Members at 150 universities will strike for three days in November over attacks on pay, working conditions and pensions it was announced today.

The full strike dates in November are:

  • Thursday 24 November
  • Friday 25 November
  • Wednesday 30 November.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said 'Our message to the employers for these three days is very clear - put a proper offer on the table or this is just the start of our fight back.'

The majority of pension benefits lost under the recent cuts could be retroactively paid back, returning around £0.5bn to the retirement funds of the 200,000 university staff in the pension scheme: Lost USS pension benefits can be returned and backdated, trustee data confirms

UCU general secretary Jo Grady told members 'all the arguments against revoking the cuts and restoring benefits have gone up in smoke.'

On a turnout of over 60%, breaking the 50% threshold set by anti-union legislation, well over 80% of members who voted said yes to taking industrial action over recent changes to USS:

National USS ballot scrutineer's report [258kb]
Northern Ireland USS ballot scrutineer's report [257kb]

Read the full story here: University staff vote for UK-wide strike action in historic ballot

New data released by the USS trustee has revealed that restoring benefit cuts forced through by Universities UK earlier this year would cost less than current contributions and still leave the scheme in surplus. The monitoring data shows that restoring benefits would leave the scheme with a £0.6bn surplus and that to maintain the restoration, contributions would fall to 27.4%, lower than the current level of 31.4%: New USS data 'unequivocal' in proving case for reversing pension cuts

There were two significant pieces of news today, with the announcement that USS CEO Bill Galvin, who oversaw the 2021 valuation, is going to leave his role..

Then it was revealed that the University of Cambridge has now confirmed at a meeting of its Pensions Working Group that USS benefits could be restored at no extra cost.

Read Jo Grady's message to members for more details: Big news about your pension

It was announced today that strike ballots will open at UK universities on Tuesday 6 September over pension cuts, alongside a second ballot over pay and working conditions.

UCU has also called for universities to scrap vanity projects and use their spare cash and to invest in staff after it was revealed the sector generated record income last year and are planning a £4.6bn splurge on 'vanity projects'.

UCU general secretary writes to members about the news that the £14.5bn deficit that was used as a justification to cut 35% off USS future guaranteed retirement income is now a £1.8bn surplus.

£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: 23 February 2024