Royal Holloway UCU has condemned Universities UK (UUK) for publicly calling for negotiations with the University and Colleges Union (UCU) while simultaneously assuring senior management at universities of their hard-line stance.
In their statement published on Saturday, RHUL-UCU explain that they “had hoped for real negotiations rather than a cynical ploy from UUK, and it is clear that we must intensify industrial action next week.”
Despite UK university chiefs calling on the resumption of talks on Friday, screenshots shared on Twitter by staff at St Andrews show a letter ostensibly from Alistair Jarvis, the head of Universities UK to all “Vice-Chancellors, Principals and Chief Executive Contacts at USS employers,” which states that their position remains unchanged.
The letter states that: “Talks without preconditions cannot achieve a sustainable resolution to the dispute. As you are aware, there are strict rules and timescales that the Pensions Regulator must ensure the USS Trustee adheres too. [sic]
“As such, it would hardly be responsible to re-open negotiations without the prospect of an alternative proposal that addressed the funding challenges of USS, and secured the scheme for the long term.”
Members of the UCU are striking due to changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) which seeks to move the pensions of lecturers and support staff from defined-benefit schemes to defined-contribution schemes, which UCU claims will leave a typical academic short of £10,000 per year in retirement. It has resulted in perhaps the most serious strike disruption ever experienced by British universities, affecting over a million students at 64 universities.
RHUL-UCU has described UUK’s call to return to talks as “disingenous”.
RHUL-UCU state they welcome Principal Layzell’s call for renewed negotiations in his letter to the UCU and UUK on 22 February, but are disappointed it does not give enough guarantees about how staff pensions will be protected.
Sally Hunt, UCU general secretary, said that UCU will attend negotiations with UUK, but expressed concern “that UUK has explicitly ruled out discussing the imposed changes that have caused the strikes.”
RHUL-UCU also praised vice-chancellors at the universities of Newcastle and Essex for “supporting the principle of defined benefits and backing their staff.”
Vice-chancellor of Newcastle University, Chris Day, broke ranks with Universities UK on Thursday to support striking lecturers, explaining: “I absolutely supported staff’s decision to strike – I’m not sure what else they could do to express their concerns about the current situation.”
The transparency of decision-making in the USS pension scheme has meanwhile come under increasing attack, with academics criticising the data and methods used to value its assets and liabilities.
An open letter in the Financial Times signed by over 50 professors say the USS provides “virtually no details of what data or analytic code they used to come to their conclusions.
“If the USS and Mercer reports were statistical, medical, or economics papers, diligent editors would reject them out of hand.”