Universities UK has agreed on a proposal aimed at resolving the ongoing pension dispute, The Oxford Student has learned.
The eight-point proposal, which was sent to University and College Union members today, follows UUK’s announcement earlier this week that it was seeking to create an expert panel tasked with reviewing the Universities Superannuation Scheme deficit.
The board of UUK met this afternoon to decide upon an agreement. It was sent to members of the UCU later today along with a letter from Sally Hunt, the union’s general secretary.
The proposal outlines plans for the creation of a new Joint Expert Panel made up of “actuarial and academic experts” from both sides in the dispute. The panel would be responsible for delivering a report laying down the key principles of the valuation of the USS fund.
The panel would be headed by a jointly agreed chair and backed up by a jointly agreed secretariat, and would focus on “reviewing the basis of the scheme valuation, assumptions and associated tests”, considering the unique nature of the higher education sector as well as inter-generational fairness and equality considerations. Meanwhile, UUK and the UCU would seek to continue discussions on other key issues, including the role of the government in relation to the USS and the reform of negotiating processes in an attempt to allow for more constructive dialogue.
However, the agreement stresses that the creation of the new panel will require the maintenance of the status quo, in terms of contributions into the USS and current pension benefits, until at least April 2019.
In a letter sent to Oxford University staff, Vice-Chancellor Louise Richardson regretted that “sadly, as we are moving into the Easter break, it is becoming increasingly likely that [the issue] will drag into Trinity term.”
Richardson stressed the common nature of the upset suffered by university staff, opining that “We face a shared problem: a pension scheme to which both employers and employees contribute which has been assessed as having a substantial deficit. We have a shared interest in finding a solution that offers the best possible affordable pension now and into the future.”
She expressed hope that the UUK proposals for the Joint Expert Panel “will be accepted, will start work immediately, and will command confidence in their conclusions.”
A statement on the Oxford University website published this evening stated that the new proposal, if it is agreed by UCU members, “would be very good news for our students, preventing further disruption to their studies.”
Hunt said in her letter that she had spoken to the UCU’s Superannuation Working Group, who had agreed that the proposal be put to the union’s members. The members will then have the ultimate power over deciding “whether what has been achieved is sufficient to suspend our strike action.” UCU branch representatives will meet at 11am on Wednesday to discuss feedback from members, followed by a meeting of the union’s Higher Education Committee.
In Oxford, a meeting of Congregation will take place on 24th April to discuss the issue further.