Industrial action – information for students

As many of you will be aware, the academics’ union, UCU, is in dispute with the employers over the proposed wrecking (in my view) of the USS pension scheme that we are part of, and which is run by the employers and the union.  Our local branch of the UCU here at Stirling is participating in the dispute.

The dispute has dragged on for a while, and the employers are refusing to negotiate seriously over these issues.  More details can be found on the UCU Defend USS website.  Most immediately there is to be a marking boycott beginning on Thursday 6. November 2014.  This is likely to affect you in various ways in many of your courses, and I would urge you to read my union’s briefing written for students.

Academics do not take industrial action that impacts negatively upon students lightly, and indeed a marking boycott may seem like a terrible inconvenience to you.  However, I would urge you to support your lecturers across the university who are participating in the boycott – they are fighting for rights that will eventually (once you leave university) also affect you.  Furthermore, facing the loss of substantial sums of money (in all likelihood thousands of pounds a year upon retirement) is a hindrance for recruiting and keeping engaged and enthusiastic academics: the likelihood of good staff leaving Stirling University increases if pensions become worse and worse, as they will seek employment at institutions with better provision.  Most of us don’t do this for the money (the majority of staff don’t earn quite that much!), but the pension provision hitherto has been pretty good for most staff.  We are fighting for that to be maintained, and I hope that all the staff participating in the boycott can look forward to your support.

Additions: 6.11.14

These further items that may be of interest…

There is an eloquent explanation of why UCU is pursuing this action on J.P.E. Harper-Scott’s blog (although it includes reference to the English fees system that is less relevant here in Scotland).

The National Union of Students has produced a briefing that you can find here.

The UCU has produced a suggested letter for staff to students that I reproduce below, with the relevant email for our University Principal added:

Dear student,

As you will know, due to industrial action starting this Thursday, November 6, your lecturers will not be setting or marking any assessed work or examinations until the dispute with university employers over staff pensions is resolved. I will be carrying out all other duties as normal – teaching classes, giving lectures, seminars, practical classes, supervisions – so your teaching will not be affected.

I understand that you will be concerned about the impact this is likely to have on your studies and that’s why I’m writing to explain what is happening and why.

Lecturers have decided to take this action because of proposed changes to the university pension scheme, USS, which will mean significantly reduced benefits, in some cases as much as £12,000 a year. We are angry that the employers are seeking to end pension schemes that were signed up to in good faith by staff, so our trade union, the University and College Union (UCU) held a ballot to decide what to do. 80% of those who voted were in favour of taking action and there is clear support across pre-1992 universities for the boycott.

This is not a decision I have taken lightly and the last thing lecturers want is to damage your education, but unfortunately we are now left with no other option but to take this stand to protect our right to a fair and decent pension. This action is also about being able to attract and retain the best staff but if the proposed changes go ahead, staff in post-92 universities will have much more favourable pension schemes and many of the best lecturers may well be attracted to work there instead.

The cuts to our pensions are unfair but they are also unnecessary. The projections of a deficit are strongly contested by UCU’s financial experts who advise that the scheme is actually in very good financial health. Since 2011 the pension fund’s investments have grown by £8bn and the returns on these investments have outperformed average earnings and inflation.

Lecturers and support staff all want to avoid disruption to your education and our union, UCU, is trying to negotiate with the university employers to ensure a fair pension but the quickest way to end this dispute is for the pension scheme managers and the employers to sit down and negotiate, rather than just imposing their own proposals unilaterally.

I’m asking for your support in this action. We believe that if student bodies throughout the country make their opinions known to vice-chancellors, there is a good chance that the employers will moderate their position. Please email Prof. Gerry McCormac (University Principal) calling on him to press the national negotiators to produce a fair and sustainable proposal.

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