February 28, 2018

UNISON Supports the Abolition of Tuition Fees and Fully-funded Free Education

Tuition fees review ‘needs to support wider access’

UNISON calls for the abolition of fees and free higher education in response to Theresa May’s review

stacked pound coins

“Any change in tuition fees needs to support wider access for students that need flexibility in study options,” UNISON head of higher education Donna Rowe-Merriman said today.

She was speaking after prime minister Theresa May admitted that students in England face “one of the most expensive systems of university tuition in the world”, and announced an “independent review of fees and student finance” to take place over the next year.

Tuition fees in England currently stand at £9,250 a year, which leaves student nurses, for instance, qualifying with a debt of more than £50,000.

“UNISON remains committed to a free education system funded by general taxation and is keen to contribute to any examination of fairer ways of resourcing post-16 education,” said Ms Rowe-Merriman.

She also said students and staff needed to be involved in the review, to make sure that “a radical overhaul of a broken system takes place.”

“Students take on the burden of debt whilst business does little to contribute to ensuring it gets a highly skilled workforce,” she added. “This needs to change as a matter of urgency.”

She pointed out that a well educated workforce benefits the economy and society as a whole, not just individual graduates.

Public sector workers including nurses, teachers, doctors, social workers and many more, are all educated at universities around the UK.

February 2, 2018

Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS)

We’ll only have a handful of members who are members of the USS, but if you are, this is important:

Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) At a meeting of the USS JNC yesterday, 23 January, Universities UK, on behalf of the university employers proposed changes to the scheme that would move all future accrual from April 2019 to a defined contribution scheme. With the support of the Independent Chair, these changes were agreed. The changes are in response to the increased in the deficit in the USS and are likely to result in a severe reduction in future benefits for all members of the scheme. Employers Proposals    From 1 April 2019 (at the earliest):

  • The salary threshold (the salary up to which defined benefits currently build up) will reduce to zero, subject to review at future valuations;
  • Future benefits will be built up in the USS Investment Builder (the defined contribution part of the scheme);
  • The employer contribution will cover the cost of future benefits in the USS Investment Builder, death and incapacity benefits, investment management charges, deficit recovery contributions, and scheme running costs;
  • Members will contribute 8% of pay, but will have access to a lower cost option of contributing 4% while still receiving the full employer contribution into USS Investment Builder;
  • The ‘match’ – the additional 1% employer contribution currently available – will be discontinued from the date at which the changes take effect.

What this means for members of the scheme Benefits already earned by both active and deferred members are protected by law and in the scheme rules. Benefits already being paid to retired members are not affected by these changes. This means that benefits in the scheme earned up till April 2019 will not be affected. From April 2019 the scheme will become a defined contribution (DC) scheme only. This means that instead of having a guaranteed income on retirement, the pension that members receive will be based on a annuity that will be dependent on the investment performance of the scheme and the annuity rates payable at the time of retirement. Effectively this transfers risk to individual members of the scheme from the employers. Whilst combined employer and employee contributions will remain at their current level (18% for employers, 8% for employees), DC schemes normally result in lower pensions for members. It is likely that these changes will impact most on the youngest and lower paid members of the scheme who can least afford a reduced pension. Scheme Consultation Arrangements USS are required to run a statutory consultation on the changes to the scheme. This consultation will take place later this year. The university as the employer in the scheme will organise the consultation in each individual institution that participates in the scheme. Employers are encouraged to hold meetings with all members of the scheme and all recognised unions, including UNISON. The employer is required to:

  • Provide written information to all affected employees details of the proposed changes
  • Undertake a consultation with affected employees and their representatives
  • Provide a report to the USS trustees of the views expressed by the trade unions and members, including oral responses received at consultation meetings

UNISON response  UNISON is extremely disappointed at the outcome of these negotiations. We believe that it should have been possible to negotiate a settlement that protected a significant element of the Defined Benefit Scheme. We believe that the changes proposed by the employers are unnecessarily severe and will result in significant detriment to scheme members. We will continue to campaign for these proposals to be reversed and call on all parties to re-enter negotiations. However, UNISON has not been party to the negotiations as UCU have sole negotiating rights in the scheme and were not consulted by UCU over any counter proposals. As you may be aware, UCU have already balloted members over the proposed changes and have announced their intention to take strike action in at least 61 HE institutions that offer USS to staff. It is likely that further details on the dates for industrial action will be announced shortly. The UNISON Higher Education Service Group have agreed to consult UNISON members who are members of the USS about balloting for industrial action to oppose these changes. We will write again shortly with further details on the consultation. It is very important that branches identify all members that are part of the scheme and update the RMS/WARMS to ensure that they are able to participate in any ballot for industrial action. If you have any questions concerning the USS or require further information, please contact Ben Thomas b.thomas@unison.co.uk

December 20, 2017

Are you a member of the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS)?

This isn’t the most exciting post, I appreciate, but if you are a USS member, we need to know about it…

The higher education employers represented by Universities UK (UUK) have proposed significant changes to the USS pension scheme. USS is the pension scheme predominantly for academic and related staff in pre-1992 institutions. The University and College Union (UCU) has sole negotiation rights for members of the scheme. However, some UNISON branches will have members in the scheme because some members of staff at the University will have transferred here from other universities where USS is common and retained their USS membership.

USS is currently a hybrid pension scheme, with defined benefits for earnings up to £55,000 with defined contribution benefits above this threshold. Universities UK (UUK) has tabled a proposal to change the benefits of the scheme from September 2018 so that the scheme becomes a defined contribution scheme only for all USS members. Defined contribution schemes are usually significantly worse than defined benefit schemes. Under these proposals, all past service in the defined benefit section of the scheme would be protected. However, UNISON believes that these proposed changes are unnecessary and represent a significant and damaging cut to member’s benefits.

Meetings between UCU, USS and the employers are continuing.

UNISON and other support staff unions have argued that because we have members in the scheme we should be fully involved in these negotiations but this has previously been rejected by both the employers and UCU. Nonetheless, to ensure our members’ interests are put forward we will continue to work closely with UCU on changes to the scheme and submit details of our negotiating priorities for them to take forward.

USS is the largest pension scheme in the higher education sector and there is a clear danger that if the USS implements these detrimental changes, this will impact on other pension schemes in the sector.

As you may be aware, UCU is currently balloting its members on taking industrial action in pre 1992 universities concerning these changes. This ballot opened 28 November 2017 and is due to close on 19 January 2018 with an expectation that any action will commence mid-February.

UNISON met with UUK recently to express our concerns at the proposals and warn that unless they are improved that we also may take action.

UNISON’s Higher Education Service Group Executive is trying to ascertain the exact details of the negotiations and will be discussing the issue at their next meeting on 10 January 2018 to decide what course of action UNISON will be taking in response to the proposals. This will include the potential for industrial action.

If you are a member of USS, please let us know as soon as possible so that we can keep you informed of what is happening.

December 15, 2017

2018 Higher Education Conference

Delegates from Brighton will be going to Chester in January 2018 for the annual HE conference, where policies for 2018 and beyond will be discussed and agreed.

Our branch has three motions on the agenda and one amendment to a motion has been ruled out of order.

Full details about the conference are here.

The final document containing all the motions to be discussed is here.



December 15, 2017

UNISON “There for you” Newsletter

There for you Newsletter Dec 2017

Financial Assistance – if you are in financial hardship due to unforeseen circumstances

 Small Grants

o School Uniform (May-July)

o Winter Fuel Dec-Feb – currently available

Links to Credit Unions – for loans/savings

Wellbeing breaks – during illness/respite for carers

Support & information – listening support & sign posting to other organisations

Debt advice – freephone 0800 389 3302

November 21, 2017

UCU strike Action at the University 23rd-24th November

Members will have seen (through the University’s one-way communication system) that UCU members are due to take strike action this week from 1pm on Thursday 23rd and all day on Friday 24th, followed by a work-to-contract over the next few months.

This is due to the University management’s insistence that two employees should be made redundant, which follows a process where groups of (mainly academic) staff were targeted for redundancy. This was during the period where voluntary severance was offered, and many people in that situation opted to take severance under the threat of redundancy.

For these remaining members of staff, retention of their jobs is the priority, and UCU members have shown themselves to be impressively sticking up for the principle that they should stick together and use their collective strength to resist compulsory redundancies. Their ballot resulted in an 85% vote in favour of industrial action to defend jobs. All UCU members should now respect that democratic decision, however they voted.

This is an important dispute, because we do not want the University management to be able to do whatever they want to, as and when they feel like it, and the money saved by ceasing to employ two individuals is peanuts in the great scheme of things.

Whilst we are not opposed to investment in the University, so much core expenditure is being cut to fund projects, which are not essential, but might look good. The reality is that we have never seen a time when so many people are suffering from work-related stress, as workloads increase and management decisions are conflicting and/or non-existent.

Whilst UCU are determined to use democratic methods to defend the jobs of their members and the principle that no compulsory redundancies should be made, the University management seem determined to risk the student experience, just to try to assert their authority and prove a point. They can easily make sure that this action does not take place by being reasonable. There is real reputational damage at stake here for the University, which affects us all.

As fellow trade unionists, we give support and encouragement to all academic staff and UCU members taking action at the end of the week. This means that we will offer verbal support at picket lines and make sure that we are not undermining their action by doing work which UCU members would normally be doing.

However, since we are not formally in dispute, we will be expected to work normally on those days and UCU members on picket lines will respect that.

If you’re a member of UNISON, please stop to say hello to strikers and offer your support. If you’re not a member of UNISON then there is no better time to make sure you join us.