The three contenders vying to lead the UK’s main higher education union say that the latest proposal to end the dispute over sector pensions does not go far enough.
The latest option for future contributions to the Universities Superannuation Scheme was announced by the pension fund as members of the University and College Union voted on who should succeed Sally Hunt as general secretary.
It suggests that employees’ contributions could rise to 9.6 per cent of salary, and that employers pay 21.1 per cent, in return for the next fund valuation taking place a year earlier than planned, in 2020-21.
A joint expert panel (JEP) that was set up by the USS and Universities UK at the end of the strike suggested that existing benefits could be protected if employees paid 9.1 per cent and employers 20.1 per cent.
Matt Waddup, the UCU’s head of policy and campaigns, who is running to be general secretary, said that the USS proposal still represented progress.
“The key proposal for contributions of 30.7 per cent for more than two years and a valuation to follow is significantly lower than the 35.6 per cent contributions originally proposed by the USS,” Mr Waddup said.
“We have made a lot of progress since last year…but the union will press for further improvements and for changes in the way the scheme is governed and valued before members have their say.”
If unions and UUK do not support this option, the USS’ default position is to increase employees’ contributions to 10.7 per cent from next April, with employers paying 23 per cent, ahead of a valuation in 2021-22.
This is a reduction on future contributions initially proposed by the USS, and it reflects a recognition that the fund’s deficit might be less than half of the £7.5 billion figure cited previously.
An alternative would see contributions rising to 9.3 per cent and 20.4 per cent – if there were arrangements to demand “contingent contributions” increasing the total contribution rate by 2 per cent annually if the pension fund does not perform as well as hoped.
But general secretary candidate Jo Grady, senior lecturer in employment relations at the University of Sheffield, said “it’s a matter of record that if the USS accepted all the JEP’s proposals, the result would be the ‘no detriment’ outcome that’s UCU policy”.
Under the no-detriment policy, any future increases in contributions would be paid for in full by employers.
Dr Grady called on the UCU and employers to “really confront the USS, stop letting them get away with their well-documented misrepresentations and their delaying tactics, and demand a radical overhaul of the USS’ valuation methods, governance and, if necessary, personnel”.
Fellow candidate Jo McNeill, president of the University of Liverpool’s UCU branch, said that the latest offer “still constitutes a 1.6 per cent pay cut for our members, and a further valuation in 2020 will bring still further instability into the scheme”.
“Our members know that the ‘deficit’ is an artefact of accounting. The scheme would show a surplus if JEP were fully implemented,” Ms McNeill said. “As general secretary, I would work with grass-roots activists to organise and mobilise the membership to achieve no detriment.”
The results of the UCU election are due to be announced on 24 May.