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New offer sent to UCU by Universities UK in USS pension dispute

Universities UK (UUK) has proposed the continuation of the current defined benefits scheme at least until April 2019 in attempt to resolve their pension dispute with the Universities and College Union (UCU).

The dispute involving changes to the current Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) saw 14 days of strikes last term, and a current mandate for 14 days more upon students returning after Easter should the dispute be unresolved.

However, this afternoon UUK proposed the creation of a Joint Expert Panel to discuss the future joint approach of UUK and UCU to the valuation of the USS fund. The proposal also involves continuing the current deal in terms of contributions into USS and pension benefits until at least April 2019.

The task of the proposed Joint Expert Panel, comprised of actuarial and academic experts nominated in equal numbers from both sides, would be to agree key principles to underpin the future joint approach of UUK and UCU to the valuation of the USS fund.

According to the letter sent to the UCU from UUK this morning, the panel will review the basis of the scheme valuation, assumptions and associated tests. The panel is also keen to recognise how highly staff value the current defined benefits scheme, and thus “the work of the group will reflect the clear wish of staff to have a guaranteed pension comparable with current provision whilst meeting the affordability challenges for all parties, within the current regulatory framework.”

The proposal also involves continuing the current deal in terms of contributions into USS and pension benefits until at least April 2019

According to UUK, the panel will also discuss alternative scheme design options and the role of government in relation to USS.

Warwick’s Vice Chancellor Stuart Croft recently showed his support for the idea of government backing in his online blog:

“USS, UUK and UCU need to start actively engaging with the Government to explore the option of the USS pension scheme becoming a government backed scheme, perhaps some sort of mirror of the Local Government Pension Scheme. I have seen several similar calls for that to happen but the call I really want to see is for at least one of the organisations to pick up a phone and propose that to a minister.”

In addition, UUK are hoping to reform the current negotiating processes “to allow for more constructive dialogue as early as possible in the valuation process”.

In relation to the proposals, Ms Hunt commented that: “We have worked hard to gain these concessions, but they were won on the back of the strike action that so many of you have taken.”

“As always it will be for members to decide whether what has been achieved is sufficient to suspend our strike action.”

UCU branch representatives will meet at 11am on Wednesday 28 March to discuss members’ feedback. The union’s Higher Education Committee will meet after that meeting to decide what will happen next.

Since the release of this information, some branches of the UCU have shared reservations in response to UUK’s proposals over the Twittersphere.

UCL-UCU first published the following tweet in response: “Hugely better than last offer – and a testament to strike action and collective power of UCU members and supporters”.

However, one hour later they tweeted the following: “This is important: the wording of offer slippery (will take seriously our concern for DB but will try to develop something affordable in regulatory framework); also one year DB status quo kind of same as the wind down after consultation – will we be striking in 2019?”

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