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Open letter from the Vice-Chancellor to students - 02/03/2020

Dear student,

Not all of you will be affected by the current strike action, but I know that those of you who are may be worried about the consequences for your studies. I did write to you recently but wanted to keep you up to date with what is happening.

The first thing I want to do is to apologise once again for the fact that you have this extra worry. Nobody wants to be in the position we are in, but the good news is that there have been meetings between the University and Colleges Union (UCU), Universities UK (UUK) and the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) to discuss ways to resolve the dispute throughout January and February, and these meetings continue. Good progress on a number of issues in this complex dispute has been made and you can find a summary in this joint letter from the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) and Universities UK (UUK).

Everybody agrees that we need to address legitimate concerns about contractual arrangements and the gender and ethnicity pay gaps (stressing that this is about pay gaps not equal pay). Cardiff University has an excellent record in regard to paying the Living Wage; we were amongst the very first universities to do so in 2013 and have been an accredited Living Wage Employer since 2014. We take very seriously the concerns expressed by the UCU about contractual arrangements and already have in place a working group on this. It’s important to remember though that this is a national dispute and so we have to abide by the national negotiations. On the plus side, UCEA did make a series of proposals to UCU on 27 January to address these issues and Cardiff University is very supportive of this way forward.

Talks between UCU and UCEA continue, and while UCEA has no mandate to re-open last year’s pay settlement, I believe that the recent proposals can provide a basis to conclude the 2019-20 dispute. This in turn would allow both parties to embark positively on the 2020-21 pay round, which would normally be commencing in the next few weeks.

On pensions, I’m pleased to report that there has been a series of productive and positive talks between the UCU, UUK and the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) to develop a joint approach to the recommendations from the Joint Expert Panel’s (JEP) second report. These talks are the first ever between all three parties and they are scheduled to continue in March. The question of cost-sharing is a separate one; by law, contributions to the pension scheme have to rise in order to cover the increased cost. Under USS rules this is done in a ratio of 35:65 shared between employees and employers. This means that employees contribute 9.6% of salary and employers make up a further 21.1%. This arrangement has been in place by agreement for almost a decade as part of the resolution to a previous dispute in 2011. The biggest priority must be to work together — in the so-called ‘tripartite talks’ mentioned above — to avoid further increases in contribution rates.

Concerns about staff workload are understandable and we have devoted a lot of attention over a number of years to addressing this. I can assure you I share this concern and take the welfare of staff and students very seriously. In consultation with staff and union representatives we have been developing a transparent framework for allocating academic workloads across the University for a number of years. Nothing is perfect and we are always looking for ways to improve. The most important thing is to take steps to reduce the amount of work that needs to be done. Recently I initiated a debate at Senate to look at ways to do exactly that by reviewing the way we assess student work. We will work with students and staff to see whether it is possible to improve the student experience, maintain or improve quality and standards whilst reducing the burden on both staff and students. In other areas we want to find ways to reduce administrative burdens, and we have been making academic appointments in areas where there are higher student numbers too.

Finally, some of you may be worried about the impact of the strike on your ability to graduate. Let me say at once that we will ensure that everything possible is done to make sure that graduation is not under threat. We already have in place a range of measures to mitigate for any effects that may occur, but more importantly, I know that our staff have your interests at heart and I am sure that everybody will work together to look after your interests so that you can progress and graduate as planned.

With best wishes

Colin Riordan