Pension dispute resolution in sight

The University and Colleges Union (UCU) and Universities UK (UUK) have reached a provisional agreement over pension reforms impacting academics, potentially bringing an end to 14 days of industrial strike action.

It comes after a dramatic week of events in Oxford, with Louise Richardson reversing her stance on the pension dispute following pressure from hundreds of academics.

Mediation talks between the two parties begun at the end of last month, though progress was frequently reported as disappointing.

However, employers and union leaders have this evening agreed a revised proposal to reform pensions, which – if endorsed by all parties – will be introduced as part of a three-year transitional arrangement.

During the three years, both employers and members will have to pay higher contributions – 19.3 per cent of salaries for employers, and 8.7 per cent for members.

The deal also includes external scrutiny of the Universities Superannuation Scheme’s valuation methodology by an “independent expert valuation group”, as a result of the concerns raised by some employers and UCU about the scheme’s valuation methodology and assumptions. The group will contain both academics and pension professionals.

The three-year arrangement means both parties will have to find another solution soon and have committed to exploring risk sharing alternatives from 2020, “in particular collective defined contributions”.

UCU have a meeting of their Higher Education Committee and branch leaders tomorrow, where a decision will be made regarding this new deal and the continuation of strikes.

If the proposed agreement is deemed satisfactory, industrial action will be suspended immediately.

Last week, leading academics accused Louise Richardson of “threatening to shut down the debate” on the pensions dispute, after she opposed the prospect of it being debated at last week’s Congregation.

Despite the debate not being heard after the required twenty members opposed, hundreds of academics left the Sheldonian and held their own symbolic vote outside.

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The next morning, Louise Richardson cited “the depth of feeling of so many colleagues” in her decision to call an emergency meeting of University management with the intention of reversing Oxford’s response to the UUK survey on pension reform.

The survey was used to justify the controversial changes to the pension fund, citing that 42 per cent of institutions, including Oxford, wanted the scheme to have “less risk”.