Industrial action – Vice-Chancellor’s open letter to students

19 February 2018

Main building

Dear students

Many of you will be aware of the forthcoming industrial action by some members of the University & College Union (UCU).

Staff are striking over proposed changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) pension scheme.

The industrial action applies to other UK universities, not just Cardiff University.

The University will remain open as usual.  Not all staff will be taking industrial action, and you should assume that your lectures, seminars and other teaching and learning activities will go ahead as scheduled unless you are sure that is not the case.

You will also have access to University services throughout the strike period.

I would like to apologise to you in advance for any disruption caused, and reassure you that we are working hard to ensure that the impact of the strike on our students is minimised.

Below is some background to the issue, and information on how we will support you throughout the duration of the industrial action.

In addition, I devoted my November and January all-staff e-mails to the subject. They are available to read on the University Executive Board’s blog on the University website.

Read my November all-staff email

Read my January all-staff email

Why are University staff striking?

UCU (including academic and professional services staff) have confirmed plans for strike action over proposed changes to a national pension scheme called the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS).

Over recent months there has been a great deal of debate about USS and its most recent valuation. The last two USS valuations (in 2011 and 2014) both revealed a funding deficit running into the billions. It’s a problem faced by the vast majority of UK funded defined benefit schemes.

A proposal has been put forward to modify the pension scheme to address the deficit. In March, all USS members will be consulted on that proposal.

The proposal involves a move from the current scheme called defined benefits to one called defined contributions. Under the proposal, universities would continue to pay 18% of every member’s salary into the scheme. All pension benefits saved up to April 2019 will be unaffected by the changes.

The concern of USS members is entirely understandable. Nobody wants to be in the position we are in; it is difficult for employer and employee alike.

However, we are facing a difficult external environment. We want a strong pension scheme for all our staff but we need to ensure the financial sustainability of the University. As a charity, we have an obligation to ensure funds are spent on our primary purpose of teaching and research, of which staff costs are of course a key element.

We are committed to paying 18% of salaries as we do currently under USS, but we cannot afford to contribute to the additional 11% of salaries that the current scheme (defined benefits) would require in future. This would be unsustainable in the long term which is why the University is in favour of a move to a different scheme (defined contribution) for staff.

We need to find a solution that is affordable both for employers and for members. We do not wish to see members having to take a cut of almost 4% in their take-home pay (because their pension contributions would rise), and we cannot countenance putting the University into an unsustainable financial position that could result in student dissatisfaction and reduced overall performance. Universities would have to accept a rise in salary costs of over 7%, in our case amounting to more than £10m.

When is the industrial action taking place?

The dates of the strike action are:

Thursday 22 and Friday 23 February (two days)

Monday 26, Tuesday 27 and Wednesday 28 February (three days)

Monday 5, Tuesday 6, Wednesday 7 and Thursday 8 March (four days)

Monday 12, Tuesday 13, Wednesday 14, Thursday 15 and Friday 16 March (five days).

Members have a right to take strike action in defence of their position and the University respects that right. Our priority during this time is to ensure any disruption is kept to a minimum and the impact on students minimised.

How is the University supporting students during the industrial action?

The University will remain open during the industrial action and you will still be able to access services like libraries, gyms and student support. However, there may be some disruption and some lectures and services may be affected.

We aim to give you as much notice as possible if your lectures and seminars are affected. You will receive notification via a number of channels which could include text, e-mail, Learning Central and the intranet, so it’s important that you make sure your contact details are up-to-date in SIMs. You can check here.

Staff are not obliged to tell the University of their intention to participate in industrial action, which means we may not always be able to provide you with advance notice about cancelled lectures or disrupted services. However, we will communicate detailed information when we are able to do so.

Our priority and commitment is to ensure that all students are able to achieve the learning outcomes attached to your programme and modules of study. This could include lectures being rescheduled, delivered by another academic colleague or through either a new or previously recorded lecture. We will also reschedule all submission dates that fall on a strike day where possible.

Please be reassured that we are working hard to minimise any adverse impact the industrial action may have on you and your studies.

If you have any specific School level issues you can contact your School Office who should be able to advise or signpost you to the relevant parts of the University.

You will receive notification via a number of channels which could include text, email, Learning Central and the intranet

Yours sincerely,

Professor Colin Riordan

Vice-Chancellor