Staff at the two universities, where academics and administrators have a strong role in governance, forced full ballots on plans for changes to the £30 billion USS, following claims that the official consultation was too one-sided in presenting only the employers’ case for change.
The proposals from the Employers Pensions Forum include an end to final-salary benefits for new members, a new pension age of 65 for all members, and pension increases to follow the lower consumer prices index of inflation, rather than the retail prices index, with a cap of 5 per cent.
The USS has said it will consider any ballot results in addition to scheme members’ responses to the consultation, which closed on 22 December.
The University and College Union has an equal say in the running of the scheme alongside the employers, and has committed to holding a strike ballot if the USS trustees give the go-ahead to the employers’ plans at a meeting on 20 January.
The ballot at Cambridge allowed scheme members to vote either for the employers’ plans or for those of the UCU. The latter were defeated on the scheme’s decision-making committee.
With 6,388 ballot papers circulated to staff, 802 voted to back the UCU’s plans (81 per cent of votes cast) while 186 supported the employers (19 per cent).
At Oxford, staff could vote for the UCU’s plans, those of the employers, or neither.
With 6,151 ballot papers distributed, 753 voted for the UCU’s plans (81 per cent of votes cast), 101 voted for those of the employers (11 per cent), and 63 voted to say they were not in favour of either set of proposals (7 per cent).
There were five spoilt or invalid ballot papers.
The UCU’s plans include keeping final-salary pensions for all members, increasing employee contributions by 1 per cent, a pension age of 65 for new entrants only, and the sharing of future cost increases 35:65 between employees and employers.
Staff at the University of Warwick ran out of time in their bid to force a ballot on changes to the USS, but registered their “disapproval” of the plans.
There were 145 members of staff at the first university assembly in over 10 years, according to the Warwick branch of the UCU.
The assembly, held on 21 December, had originally been called to push for a full ballot.
But with the official consultation closing the following day, the meeting opted to pass an amendment describing the changes “detrimental to members, damaging to the long term viability of the scheme itself and harmful to the interests of higher education in the UK”.
The assembly asked that the motion be included in the university’s official response to the consultation.