Staff news

Update from the Principal on the USS pension dispute

The Principal and Vice-Chancellor, Professor Peter Mathieson gives an update and an invitation to open fora.

Dear Colleagues,  

Friday afternoon updates are becoming a habit: I realise this is not optimal timing but I wanted to wait until the end of the Russell Group meeting which I have just been attending so that I can include the very latest information.  

This has been a week of much activity but unfortunately, as yet, little definitive progress towards an agreed solution in the USS pension dispute.  

On Monday we were hopeful, after intense negotiations between UCU and UUK, facilitated by ACAS, led to an agreement: in case you have not seen the joint statement issued at that time, it is available online.

However, on Tuesday this was rejected by UCU. My own discussions with our staff (and indeed what I have heard from other universities) indicate that as well as concerns about pension benefits, the statement therein on rescheduling teaching was particularly unwelcome.  

The way forward was therefore not clear on Monday. I have been in regular communication with UUK this week and, along with many others, I have been urging the continuation of negotiations without preconditions. My previous support for the establishment of an independent expert group, which was adopted in the ACAS agreement, remains strong and has been reiterated.  

USS membership extends well beyond UCU members, and one important aspect is that all USS members have a right to be consulted on the new proposal. The timescale for any consultation is mandated by the Pensions Regulator and is therefore not within our control. This puts the sector in a very difficult position. I hope and believe that the ACAS proposal can be the basis for further negotiations and my understanding is that active dialogue between UUK and UCU is ongoing.  

One aspect of the dispute which has received little attention, despite being included in my letter to UUK on 5th March, concerns the gender equity implications. Colleagues in Edinburgh have emphasised this in their communications with me, and also the fact that early career staff and late joiners are of particular concern. I hope that future proposals give sufficient emphasis to these considerations.  

I continue to fully respect colleagues' depth of concern here and their right to take action. As additional evidence of the collegiality of the University and of the depth of the shared concerns felt by many, I have just received a letter signed by 894 students and staff. I hope that my update in this message can serve as a response to the issues that they raise. I also know that many colleagues from all parts of the University, not just those who are involved in teaching, are facing additional pressure as a result of the strike and are working hard to minimise the disruption for our students.  In my short time here, I have seen that our University has an enviable spirit of collegiality and we must all do everything we can to cherish and protect this. This includes having respect for the views and actions of others as we continue to work together for the good of our University.  

Finally, we now have dates and venues for the all staff-meetings across campus that I mentioned in my last email to you. I look forward to meeting as many of you as possible at these events to talk about whatever you would like to raise. You can book your place through MyEd. I will also be holding pre-arranged “town hall” meetings with our students over the next few weeks.

With best regards,