New strike dates announced as UCU members consider deal

Union members will vote next week on whether to accept the proposal from Universities UK

The University and College Union (UCU) have announced that members will be balloted next week on whether they accept the latest proposal from UniversitIes UK (UUK), as new strike dates impacting Oxford are announced.

Ten members of UCU’s higher education committee voted to put the deal to ballot, with eight opposed and one abstention. Cherwell understands this went against the views of many union branches, who pushed instead for the offer to be revised.

The announcement comes as the UCU plans for further strike action at 13 universities including Oxford, which could disrupt teaching and administration at the beginning of Trinity.

Representatives from UCU’s university branches and the union’s higher education committee met earlier today to discuss last week’s proposed deal from UUK.

UUK’s main proposal was the creation of a “Joint Expert Panel”, comprised of actuarial and academic experts nominated in equal numbers from both UCU and UUK. It is hoped that the panel would agree to the key principles which underpin the future joint approach of UUK and UCU to the valuation of the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) fund.

After seeking some clarification on the proposed deal, including that the defined benefit element of the scheme would be maintained while a joint-expert panel considers the valuation of the USS fund, the UCU committee voted to put the proposal to members in a ballot scheduled for next week.

When consulted this week, many UCU branches expressed that they did not wish the proposal to go to ballot in its current form. Instead, they voted in favour of going back to UUK and asking them to revise their offer, with the hashtag #ReviseandResubmit proving popular amongst members.

Oxford UCU said that they received 171 responses to their consultation. While 23 members were outright against UUK’s offer, 95 supported it and a further 19 supported the offer “with qualifications”. Additionally, 34 members were categorised as either having “queries about offer”, believing the “offer needs to go further”, or were deemed to be “undecided”.

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UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: “These latest proposals were won by the solid action of UCU members and now is the time for them to have their say on what happens next.”

Chief Executive of Universities UK, Alistair Jarvis, confirmed to UCU in a letter this morning that UUK was “committed to maintaining a meaningful Defined Benefit scheme”, quelling the doubts of many union members and negotiators.

However, he added: “Longer term we would like to work jointly with UCU to consider other risk sharing alternatives.”

In addition to the announcement of the ballot, UCU also confirmed there will be further strike dates in April, impacting 13 universities. Oxford is one of those affected, with five days of strikes covering 0th week of Trinity term due to occur if an agreement is not made.

UCU said if the dispute was not resolved there would be action targeted to hit teaching and the exam and assessment period at all 65 universities, to be confirmed at a later date. According to an official statement, the amount of strike dates an institution would face during the exam period “would depend on any earlier action taken in April and aimed at teaching.”

This suggests that if an agreement between UUK and UCU is not made before the exam season, Oxford would be hit with comparatively less industrial action than many other universities, due to the announced strike dates covering 0th week Trinity.

UUK said in a statement: “Today’s decisions will lead to union members being consulted on whether to support the establishment of the Joint Expert Panel. This panel will help to build confidence in the valuation process and assumptions.

“It will also give time to pause, to reflect and to rebuild the trust that has been damaged over the past few months.

“Employers have indicated their support for this proposal, however, this is conditional on the suspension of industrial action. We expect the union to provide urgent clarity on the action planned for the week of the 16th April. Suspension of this action would be a huge relief to students ahead of the main examination period.”

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Oxford UCU have been contacted for comment.

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