Thursday, 13 November 2014

Pensions motions passed at Branch meeting 12/11/2014

These two motions were passed at yesterday's well-attended branch meeting. The first motion was passed with one abstention while the second motion was passed unanimously.

1. SOAS UCU pensions motion
Branch meeting 12/11/2014

SOAS UCU notes that:
1) That USS have proposed reforms to pensions benefits that are severely detrimental to employees.
2) UCU negotiators have tabled a counter proposal to the employers and USS on proposed changes to the USS pension scheme.
3) This counter proposal abandons a number of positions previously held by the UCU, including the need to challenge the basis for cuts to pensions (the flawed valuation methodology used by USS) and the aim of achieving parity with the Teachers' Pension Scheme.
4) In response to the assessment boycott a number of universities have decided to take the disproportionate and intimidating approach of announcing 100% pay docking for union members.
5) UCU policy states that “members should be informed that should an employer implement punitive deductions this will result in a national response and the calling of national strike action”.

SOAS UCU believes that our negotiators must stick to the following principles:
1) That the funding requirements and valuation methodology for USS should be challenged, not just in the abstract but concretely as part of negotiations.
2) That the scheme should remain entirely Defined Benefit, with no hybrid scheme and no cap, thus maintaining the principle of risk sharing. 
3) That pensions are our deferred pay and they should be increased, not cut. This may mean higher employer contributions and higher accrual rates.
4) That we need to return to a single scheme. This should be done by merging the current CRB and FS schemes into a new scheme that achieves parity with the Teachers' Pension Scheme by introducing graduated contributions for the higher paid.

SOAS UCU calls:
1) For UCU negotiators to withdraw their counter proposal on pensions until strategy in this dispute has been reviewed and the results of industrial action can be evaluated, preferably by a special HE sector conference of the union.
2) For all members at SOAS to observe the assessment boycott and build solidarity for universities where members are being threatened with pay docking.
3) For all staff to provide support for fractional staff who will be crucial to the implementation of the boycott at SOAS.
4) For the UCU to carry out its stated policy and call national strike action in response to 100% pay docking.

2. Motion on a special HE sector conference
Branch meeting 12/11/2014

This UCU branch supports the call for the requisition of a Special HE Sector Confernce to debate the campaigns to defend pensions in HE, and to defend the capacity of the UCU to call industrial action short of a strike as part of those campaigns.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

SOAS UCU model letter to students explaining the assessment boycott

Dear students,

Members of the University and College Union (UCU) – your lecturers, teachers and support staff - have begun (from 6/11/2014) a comprehensive boycott of all setting and marking. This is due to the fact that our employers, 
i.e. UK Universities, are implementing changes severely affecting our pensions. The boycott will continue across UK Universities - not only SOAS - until a resolution to the pensions dispute is reached.

The boycott will apply to any form of assessment, including essay marking, the award or classification of any degree, certificate, diploma or any other academic or professional qualification, and the progression from one stage of study to the next (for example from an MPhil to PhD).  UCU members will carry out all other duties – like teaching classes, giving lectures, seeing students during office hours – as normal.

Regrettably, unless the dispute is resolved, the boycott is very likely to impact on your studies. UCU is not taking this action lightly. UCU members don’t want to take any action that damages the interests of students, but your lecturers, teachers and support staff deserve the right to a fair and decent pension.

The University employers body (UUK)* is carrying out changes which will significantly and permanently impact upon pensions. The changes will imply the loss of thousands of pounds every year; they will make pensions worse than those of colleagues in ‘New’ Universities (which apply the Teachers’ Pension Scheme), and will potentially lead to serious problems in recruiting and retaining the best staff.

Employers argue that the changes are necessary, as current pensions are not sustainable considering the deficit made by the University Superannuation Scheme (USS). UCU financial experts strongly contest these claims. Since 2011, the fund’s investments have grown by £8bn and the returns on these investments have outperformed average earnings and inflation. Last year, the fund’s highest paid employee received a pay increase of 50% (to £900k) in reward for ‘sustained performance’. You can read more about the dispute and UCU position here:

You can read on SOAS UCU position at

I know that you may find this email upsetting, as you joined this institution expecting high quality teaching and contact time, and also timely assessment. Like you, UCU members also want a speedy resolution of this dispute. The employers’ body (UUK) could end it today if they wanted to, because the pension scheme is sustainable and
that the option is there for a fair settlement. UCU members regret the impact that the boycott may have on you, but feel they cannot sit back and watch as pensions and future security are attacked.

You are not powerless in all of this. You can make your voice heard by emailing Paul Webley SOAS Director and Principal (, and calling on him to press their national negotiators to produce a fair and sustainable proposal.

Thanks for your understanding and support.

All the best,

Monday, 27 October 2014

SOAS UCU response on proposed USS pensions changes 27/10/2014

As most people will now have heard, UCU members at pre-92 universities across the country have voted by a large majority to take industrial action over proposed changes to the USS pension scheme. An answer to a staff question that appeared in the most recent SOAS news bulletin tells us that the proposed changes are necessary to “deliver an affordable and sustainable scheme for future and current employees and for employers.” SOAS UCU believes that we need to state clearly why the proposed changes are both extremely detrimental to university employees and completely unnecessary.

SOAS UCU would like to stress three points in particular:

1) The supposed USS funding deficit running into billions of pounds is meaningless when the methodology for valuing the liabilities of the USS pension fund is fundamentally flawed.
2) The application of pension regulations requiring the 'full funding' of private pension schemes to a scheme like USS that covers an entire sector of the national economy is absurd and a prime example of 'reckless prudence'.
3) The introduction of a Defined Contribution portion of the scheme will be highly detrimental to members' benefits and fundamentally challenges the risk pooling character of traditional pension schemes, allowing employers and USS to shift risk to individual members.

How are the changes detrimental?

First of all, the proposed changes would finally close the final salary scheme that was already closed to new entrants in 2011. However, this is not actually the biggest problem. Under the changes, everyone in USS would be moved to the Career Revalued Benefits scheme for all future earnings. The problem with this scheme is its accrual rate of 1/70th (including the lump sum) which compares very unfavourably with comparable schemes such as the Teachers' Pension Scheme (TPS), which has a rate of 1/57th. This means a significant drop in pension benefits for many USS members, not just those who end their careers on a high final salary. UCU has calculated that members may lose as much as 27 percent of their benefits under the new scheme. Early career academics and those currently on casualised contracts will likely be hit very hard by these changes when it comes time for their retirement. As the sector becomes more casualised academics will tend to have less time in a permanent post in which to build up benefits, thus compounding the effect of these changes on eventual pension payments.

There is another element to the changes which is potentially even worse: the introduction of a Defined Contribution (DC) portion of the pension for earnings above £50,000 (USS originally proposed a cap at £40,000 but have now backtracked). This is the biggest attack of all on our pensions since DC is not a pension in the sense that we usually think of it, which provides a guaranteed income from retirement until we die. DC is simply a pot of money that employers and employees pay into and whose value at retirement will be dependent on market values. This system also shifts risk decisively to the individual, leaving them to buy an annuity with their pot, or simply invest the money in anything they see fit in the hope that it will produce enough earnings for them to live on for the rest of their lives. Introducing a DC portion as part of a hybrid CRB scheme is the thin end of the wedge. We can look forward to USS in future lowering the cap at which DC starts and eventually perhaps doing away with the Defined Benefits scheme altogether.

Why are the changes unnecessary?

The changes proposed by the USS are said to be necessary because the fund is “unsustainable” and currently has a large deficit, predicted to be up to £8bn for this year. But the deficit figures quoted by USS and the employers are actually meaningless and founded on a seriously flawed methodology. The USS fund currently makes around a £1bn surplus every year, but it is considered to be in deficit because pension regulations for private funds (but not public ones like TPS) require them to be 'fully funded'. This means that they must be able to pay out all their liabilities (all pensions that would have to be paid out in the future) if the entire pre-92 university sector was to go bankrupt(!) taking the USS fund with it. The problem lies in the way in which the value of these liabilities is calculated. While fund assets are worked out at their current market value, liabilities are worked out using actuarial methods and this figure is then revalued to a current estimate of liabilities. USS is insisting on using the yield on government bonds, which is currently near an all-time low, to estimate liabilities, but if they were to use the current rate of return on USS fund investments – a perfectly reasonable way of calculating the value of liabilities – then the apparent deficit would be either much reduced or wiped out altogether. As Professor Dennis Leech pointed out when he spoke at SOAS last week, the fund deficit has been arrived at using two figures (assets and liabilities) both of which have been calculated with high margins of error, thus giving a deficit figure with an even higher chance of being erroneous.

What does UCU want?

The UCU does of course want an affordable and sustainable pension scheme for its members. The underlying motivation for the proposed changes to USS is not about sustainability, but rather about shifting risks from the scheme and employers to individual employees. They are part of a broader attack on pensions across public and private sectors that could end in the complete destruction of Defined Benefit schemes. UCU wants to defend the principle of Defined Benefits and protect the pension benefits of current and future USS members. What UCU has been proposing is a shift towards parity with the Teachers' Pension Scheme, which for most members would offer better benefits than any of the current or proposed sections of the USS scheme and is also affordable. We hope that USS and employers will be willing to negotiate with the UCU on the future of USS and prevent a second year of industrial action at UK universities.

Monday, 16 December 2013

Why Fair Pay is important

Why fair pay is important

Since 2009, pay in further and higher education has been cut every year. Every year, our employers in colleges and universities have made offers that are far lower than the rising cost of living.
As a result, lecturers, researchers and other professionals in further and higher education have seen their pay effectively cut by between 13 and 15% over four years.
Pay is falling as job cuts create heavier workloads and higher stress levels. So staff have to work harder while taking home less money to their families.

Pay cuts are bad for education in the UK:
If the problem of falling pay is not addressed, colleges and universities simply won’t be able to recruit and retain the brightest people to work for them and the quality of education as well as research in the UK will fall.
Politicians talk about the importance of a skilled, trained, highly educated population to our economy and to the life chances of our people, yet they will do nothing to invest properly in this education.
Our employers make decisions about where they spend the money they have every day, but they are failing to prioritise the staff who make our colleges and universities work.

Pay cuts are bad for the economy:
If the quality of education suffers, so will those learners of all ages who go through our colleges or graduate from our universities.
The pay cuts in further and higher education are part of the wider problems of living standards facing people across the UK. That’s why the TUC has launched a campaign to win support for pay rises for all working people.
Britain needs a pay rise to ensure that people feel secure and safe enough to spend money, that the economy grows properly and that living standards recover for all our people.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Stop the Criminalisation of Protest - SOAS open meeting

This is an open meeting in the JCR at 5pm on Tuesday in which students and staff can discuss the criminalisation of peaceful protest on our campus and how we take our campaigns forward at SOAS.

Over the last few months University of London (UoL) Management has cracked down on student protest. This began with the arrest and of, and ongoing case against, a student for chalking 3 Cosas campaign slogans on Senate House (chalk washes off), after which protest was banned on Senate House grounds. Since then, police presence during student protests on UoL campus has dramatically increased, as has violence inflicted upon students. Daniel Cooper, ULU Vice-President, was arrested during a police raid of the Students Union, forcibly searching and racially profiling students. Michael Chessum, ULU President, was arrested after a Save ULU demo for not notifying the police about the protest on UoL campus. We have never had to notify the police about protests on our University campus, nor should we.

Last Wednesday a network of 100 independent students from different universities occupied the offices of senior UoL management, including that of the Vice-Chancellor Adrian Smith. After 5 hours the police forcibly and violently evicted these students and arrested 5 in the process. The legality of their actions is questionable as students were not given the option to leave peacefully, and did not do anything to warrant arrest. (The Guardian and other media outlets have videos of police brutality towards students). During a peaceful protest against this increasing police presence, and the assault and arrest of students the previous night, (known as ‘Cops off Campus’) protesters were purposefully chased by the police off campus, to Euston Square, where they were kettled and arrested en masse. These arrestees included students, university staff, Union representatives, members of the press, legal observers, and even passersby, including an injured person on their way to hospital. The kettles were outside the Hospital, obstructing ambulances.

UoL has obtained an injunction, banning occupations on UoL campus, including Senate House, SOAS, and Birkbeck. Around the country we have seen similar scenes: five students were suspended at Sussex University and in Birmingham and Sheffield occupations were broken up by police.

This recent wave of crackdown on demonstrations in universities is taking place on the backdrop of austerity, and an accompanying attack on our right to protest - from mass arrests at anti-fascists demonstrations, and racist stop and searches, to the murders in police custody and the killing of Mark Duggan, and now cuts denying legal aid to protesters. This is a mechanism to uphold the status quo, which has been extended to universities with the increasing privatisation and the marketisation of higher education, whereby students are expected to act as compliant consumers, who should not be critical, and do not have a right to political expression and assembly. The campaings that UoL management want to suppress are around the defence of public higher education, opposing the selling off of student debt, the closure of ULU, and the right to protest, and the fight for staff’s fair and equal pay and conditions.

Join us on Tuesday, 10 December, from 5pm, to discuss the criminalisation of peaceful protest on our campuses, how this links to broader struggles concerning students, and planning for the protest the following day -

The meeting will begin with short speeches by: -Carol Duggan (Aunt of Mark Duggan who was murdered by the police in Tottenham in 2011) - Alfie Meadows (nearly killed by police during the Student Revolt of 2010, and DefendTheRightToProtest) - Recent SOAS Arestees (TBC)

Followed by open discussion. After the meeting there will also be a ‘know your rights’ session!