The University and College Union (UCU) announced this week a second wave of strikes to take place over February and early March, including at the University of Nottingham. Part of an ongoing dispute with the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) over cuts to pensions, the Union has threatened to stage a marking boycott over May and June if no resolution is found, delaying degree classifications.
The dispute dates back to 2014, when previous general secretary Sally Hunt warned of new proposals ending the USS scheme as it was.
The most recent action was caused by an funding valuation, taken by the USS on the 31st March 2020. The UCU accused their assessment of lacking confidence and being needlessly cautious. The UCU has expressed particular discontent with the valuation being published just two weeks after the first lockdown was announced and the world economy collapsed.
This led to the USS recommending an increased pension contribution, as well as a switch from a contribution based pay out model to one based on the performance of the pension fund. Academics have contended that these changes could see a loss of £200,000-£300,000 over their career: the equivalent of a 25% loss.
Whether a deal can be struck at the eleventh hour to prevent the first week of strikes is yet to be seen
On the 10th February, there seemed to be a breakthrough, with the USS agreeing the UCU’s pension proposal was ‘viable’. However, this progress seemed to stall when Vice-Chancellors, who have not been publicly named, refused to approve the plan. UCU wrote in an official statement: “Vice chancellors must not waste this golden opportunity.”
Whilst this deal would not stop all strikes (strikes on the 21st-22nd February and 28th-2nd March include a separate dispute), it is likely the union will not go ahead with this set of strikes if an agreement is reached.
Whether a deal can be struck at the eleventh hour to prevent the first week of strikes is yet to be seen. Shearer West, University of Nottingham Vice Chancellor, sits on the USS board and will have a deciding hand in whether the deal is approved.
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