I am writing to you ahead of UCU’s (University and College Union) planned industrial action this week. I want to set out the position we have reached in our local discussions and to outline what is likely to happen next.
Whilst there have been constructive conversations locally, the pensions dispute cannot be settled here in Loughborough. The Provost’s letter explains why and sets out the central role of the key national stakeholders.
The University has been working over a period of time locally on the other issues UCU have raised. We are addressing these because they are the right things to do for our colleagues and our students. This important work will continue regardless of the action.
The University and all three campus unions recognise that workload issues are acute and have grown in recent years. There are numerous drivers, but two significant ones are the impact of the pandemic, which may yet have a lasting impact on our diverse income streams, and the flat £9,250 undergraduate tuition fee, which continues to be significantly eroded by inflation, reducing our scope to invest.
To begin to address workload issues we have:
- Lifted the recruitment freeze that was necessitated by the pandemic
- Released additional investment this term to provide immediate support to Schools and Professional Services challenged by capacity
- Suspended ratings in PDR so that more rounded conversations can take place about performance, development and workload
- Launched a significant project in support of the new University strategy to set clearer priorities for activity, create space for new developments and address work-life balance
- Published a new wellbeing framework, led by the University’s Occupational Health team, that will be adopted by all Schools and Professional Services
Equity, Diversity & Inclusion
Whilst there is a significant distance to travel, I believe the University is making progress both through deeds and words.
- EDI is a central theme in the new University strategy, alongside activities such as education, research and innovation
- The University has completed a major piece of work to foreground and progress EDI, including the submission of our Race Equality Charter plan, the creation of an EDI Committee, the TORCH programme to support the progression of academic women, more widespread use of equality impact assessments and a review of academic promotions
- Creation of a Pro Vice-Chancellor for Equity, Diversity & Inclusion, in consultation with our staff network groups
- Our gender pay gap is closing, although it remains significant. The gap is, in part, due to our operating model that does not out-source important support services such as cleaning or retail
The core background to this issue is set out in the Provost’s letter. Further to that we have offered to local UCU:
- To call for a new evidence-based, moderately prudent, new valuation of USS assets at the earliest possible opportunity, thereby superseding the March 2020 valuation
- To call for progress to be made on governance reform and the exploration of conditional indexation, as a matter of urgency. The University has, in recent years, made repeated calls to recognise the distinct nature of the higher education sector and to cease what we believe is an excessive level of prudence in the Trustee’s forecasting
- To ask UUK to confirm that the same approach to covenant support should be applied to any proposals that the JNC considers, including from UCU (although noting there are currently none), and to encourage all parties to develop proposals that will command the support of the members of the JNC
- To call for meaningful, good faith negotiations to continue between employers, UCU and the Trustee, to seek a negotiated outcome. We have not called for the UUK proposal on benefit reform to be withdrawn. In the absence of an alternative to the UUK proposal, the University and employees would automatically and legally be placed on a path to their contributions rising from 21.4% to as much as 38.2%, and 9.8% to 18.8% of salaries respectively – crippling increases that none of us should risk
We have made good progress on this issue.
- Principles for casual employment have been agreed with UCU and there is an ongoing commitment to reduce casual contracts
- The proportion of colleagues on fixed term contracts has reduced from 27% to 21% since this work began. The overwhelming majority of colleagues on fixed contracts are working on projects with fixed funding end points
For colleagues who choose to take strike action next week, your pay will be deducted by 1/365th for each day of strike action. We have agreed with UCU that deductions will be made in your February 2022 salary. You will be asked to report your strike action to a nominated person in your school or service and should do so without delay. We have also agreed with UCU that we will maintain your pension contributions for the days on which you are on strike. This means your employee contributions will be deducted as normal and the University will continue to pay its contributions on your behalf. If you do not wish this to happen, please contact email@example.com.
I recognise and respect that UCU have a valid mandate for industrial action on our campuses. However, I believe that such action is only going to harm our students, our colleagues (both those taking action and those supporting our activities in their absence) and our institution. It will not materially change the pension situation.
Whatever happens over the coming months, I very much hope that we can maintain collegiality on campus and respect for each other, and be thoughtful towards our students, in what may be a difficult period.
With best wishes
Professor Nick Jennings