Over the next two months, 61 universities have planned strikes over a UCU pension dispute with Universities UK, whose new pension scheme may leave typical faculty members £10,000 a year worse off. The ‘defined benefit’ pension scheme for faculty members which guaranteed pensions is set to be replaced with a ‘defined contribution’ pension scheme, in which pension income is subject to changes in the stock market.
The changes are due to the scheme’s £12.6bn deficit, and to maintain current benefits Universities UK argues that contributions would need to increase by up to 7%. A spokesman for Universities UK said: “This proposal would tackle the scheme’s financial deficit and rising future costs whilst ensuring that it continues to offer attractive pensions benefits to members.”
First Actuarial also found that lecturers who began in 2007 and have 10 years of service will lost out on approximately £137,000 overall (£6,100 annually). Michael Otsuka, an LSE Philosophy professor and pensions representative at UCU, found that UCU members will only receive 50 to 75 per cent of current benefits. Tilney Bestinvest, the financial planning firm, found that defined contribution schemes are five times less generous than the best defined benefit schemes.
UCU and Universities UK failed to come to an agreement in recent negotiations over the Universities Superannuation Scheme, which covers most faculty staff in pre-1992 universities.
In post-1992 universities, faculty staff are largely covered by the rival Teachers’ Pension Scheme. First Actuarial found that lecturers covered by this scheme could benefit from £385,000 more than the new proposed scheme for pre-1992 universities.
The vote for strike action by LSE UCU failed to meet the 50% turnout requirements, with 46% of UCU LSE members having voted. Therefore, a re-ballot opened on the 2nd of February and will close on the 16th. Six other universities are in the same position. If LSE UCU members do vote for strike action, it will likely take place in late February and early March, with the biggest dates nationwide being the 22nd and 23rd of February.
NUS has called for its members to encourage university employers to “agree to meaningful negotiations” with UCU and “participate in local demonstrative solidarity action”. Amelia Horgan, postgraduate representative for NUS, has recommended that students “not cross the picket line” during strike action; “pass a motion at your student union to mandate them to stand in solidarity”, as well as to “offer support and solidarity, and share info and resources” with other universities.
Alongside UCU, LSE staff are represented by trade unions UNITE and UNISON. UNITE told the Beaver that it fully supports “the action taken by the UCU union”, recognising “the potential impact it could have on other pensions, such as SAUL and future generations” that may want to enter into academia. UNISON’s secretary told the Beaver that they would “like students to support” the strike, given that the welfare of university staff corresponds with the quality of university life. They added that the proposed changes to the USS is “part of a broader campaign against public service”, and strikes are staff’s “last vestige of power”.