Last week members of the Universities and Colleges Union (UCU) at over 60 universities across the UK voted to take strike action in defence of our pensions. 65%  voted to strike over the proposed changes while 82% voted for action short of a strike. If an agreement is not reached, the first strikes will take place next Thursday, the 17th of March, in Scotland with further action in Wales on the 18th,  Northern Ireland on the 21st and England on the 22nd. There will be a joint day of action on the 24th across the UK, which will cover all HE institutions, and p[ending a ballot to be announced on Monday, FE colleges as well. This would be the first time that joint action had been taken by FE and HE institutions since the merger of the AUT and NATFHE to form UCU.

In brief, the dispute over pensions originates in our employers decision to switch from a final salary scheme to a career averaged scheme for new entrants and to increase contributions for those already earning a pension. Pensions increases will be switched from an RPI link to a CPI link and will be capped at 5%, or 2.5% for deferred pensions. These changes will significantly decrease pension payments while increasing the amount we pay to receive them.

For a lecturer currently aged 30 who works till they are 65, if they are already in the scheme they should expect to lose £130,000 in total  benefits over the course of their retirement. For those not year in the scheme, and who will therefore join the care averaged programme, the loss could be over £300,000, with their final pension falling from around £34,000 to just over £24,000*. For someone like myself, who finishes their PhD this year and (if I stay in academia) will enter the scheme at 26, the loss will likely be even larger.

We hear a lot about problems with pensions these days and it might seem like this is all rather unfortunate but the necessary consequence of an increasing life expectancy. In turns out, however, that our pension fund is actually doing rather well. At it’s last valuation in 2008 it was in surplus, with a positive cash-flow of around £800m a year. That is contributions, at their current level, exceed pension payments. There is, of course, a real issue about how we maintain that position, but the employers have consistently failed to listen to the suggestions of the union for a more fair and equitable solution. One that doesn’t place the burden onto staff and, yet again, onto the young.

These changes are to be implemented on the 1st of April. We don’t have long to alter them, but there is still time for negotiations to restart and UCU are keen to see that that happens.

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said:

University staff really value their pension rights and have made their views of the detrimental changes crystal clear and if a settlement is not reached, they are prepared to strike to defend their pensions.

Strike action is always a last resort and I am ready and willing to clear my diary to meet the employers through ACAS immediately. We can avoid widespread disruptions on campus, but both sides must be prepared to go that extra mile and move quickly. The ball is in the employers’ court and we are still waiting for their response.

Sadly, this afternoon we received a response from Professor Brian Cantor of the Employers Pensions Forum (EPF) making clear that they do intend to take up our general secretary’s offer of mediation and talks. UCU are calling on their members to contact the EPF to ask that they reconsider their decision and join negotiations to end the dispute.


The 63 institutions that voted in favour of strike action and will be hit by strike action on the issue of pensions are. Some institutions (listed at the bottom) are still finalising details because of their holiday dates:

The University of Aberdeen
Aberystwyth University
University of Bangor
University of Bath
Queen’s University of Belfast
University of London, Birkbeck College
The University of Birmingham
University of Bradford
University of Bristol
Brunel University
University of Cambridge
Cardiff University
City University
Courtauld Institute of Art
Cranfield University
The University of Dundee
Durham University
University of East Anglia
University of Edinburgh
University of Essex
University of Exeter
The University of Glasgow
University of London, Goldsmiths
Heriot-Watt University
The University of Hull
Imperial College London
University of London, Institute of Education
The University of Kent
King’s College London
University of Wales Lampeter
University of Lancaster
The University of Leeds
University of Leicester
University of Liverpool
London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
London School of Economics
Loughborough University
The University of Manchester
Newcastle University
The University of Nottingham
Open University
University of Oxford
University of London, Queen Mary
University of Reading
Royal College of Art
University of London, Royal Holloway
The University of Salford
University of London, School of Pharmacy
University of London, Senate House
The University of Sheffield
University of London, SOAS
University of Southampton
University of St Andrews
The University of Stirling
University of Strathclyde
University of Surrey
University of Sussex
Swansea University
University of Ulster
University College London
University of Warwick
University of York

Universities still finalising details of their action because of holiday dates:
Durham University
Newcastle University
Institute of Education
University of Cambridge
University of Oxford
University of Sussex
University of Warwick


For more information on the issues behind the dispute and the proposed changes to the USS pension scheme see the UCU website here.

* For case studies of the effect of the changes see this UCU briefing.