We are writing this joint statement because we are all deeply concerned by the current situation caused by the proposed changes to the USS Pension scheme that will result in significant changes to the benefits enjoyed by university staff in their retirement. We are also very worried by the ongoing impact of the current industrial action upon our students and non- striking staff members.
As others have done, and as we have already done
we call for a reconsideration of the approach taken to date and a further independent valuation of the Scheme’s assets. The plan to de-risk the investment strategy is key to the outputs from the current USS financial model and is driving changes to benefits. We do not believe that there has been a sufficient discussion of the nature of the risks inherent in the scheme with employers and the UCU and would urge a constructive discussion on the levels of risk sharing and investment strategy with a view to retaining a significant element of Defined Benefit in the scheme. We recognise that this may involve some additional contributions from both employers and staff and therefore that they should be set at a sustainable level. This will involve working closely with USS to work through the methods it uses to arrive at estimates of its assets and liabilities. Ongoing consultation with all parties and the involvement of independent experts are essential if members and employers are to have trust in this process and its outcomes.
The consequences of failing in this joint effort to arrive at an acceptable solution threaten the entire Higher Education sector. Staff recruitment, retention, and trust will be undermined significantly; and motivation and goodwill among existing staff will be diminished and lead to a decrease in engagement. In turn, students will suffer from reduced access to the best and most dedicated professionals, and the UK will suffer from diminished research innovation. Ultimately, if we do not resolve this crisis, there is a real danger of a long-term contraction of the sector, and the loss of the reputation and standing of UK higher education globally with the resulting loss in jobs and national standing.
Alongside the immediate need for a fresh look at the options, we need to consider more widely the future governance and rules of the USS scheme in order that we do not arrive at this position again. We wish to offer members the best retirement benefits possible based upon a properly informed discussion on risks and other assumptions, to achieve the best scheme possible within the parameters of sustainability.
In short, we jointly urge all parties to this dispute to work together to arrive at an agreed solution in a timely manner. We seek an outcome that reflects Kent’s core values of fairness, equality, collaboration and respect and that will continue to make a career in Higher Education an attractive choice for both current staff and those just beginning their working lives.
Professor Karen Cox, Vice-Chancellor and President University of Kent
Sian Lewis-Anthony, President UCU University of Kent
Ruth Wilkinson, President Kent Union