Open letter to UUK and UCU
Posted on 22/03/2018
22 March 2018
Mr Alistair Jarvis, Chief Executive Universities UK
Woburn House, 20 Tavistock Square, London WC1H 9HQ
Sally Hunt, General Secretary
University and College Union, Carlow Street, London NW1 7LH
Dear Alistair and Sally
USS PENSION SCHEME - EXPERT PANEL REVIEW OF VALUATION PROCESSES
I am deeply concerned about the impact of the ongoing USS pension dispute on the community of King's College London and the sector as a whole. It is important to recognize that the strikes themselves have not been the cause of the present crisis, but have revealed its depth for both staff and students. They have also been a catalyst for the recognition of a number of other legitimate concerns that we need to acknowledge are damaging our institutions. In this challenging context, we are in the process of discovering new ways of working together, which must influence our decisionmaking and how we operate as Universities. I fully recognise the differences in perspectives and the fact that it is going to take time to rebuild trust and collegiality, and not only within our institutions, but also between our institutions and the wider public.
As you both know UCU rejected the recent ACAS brokered proposal, in large part because of disagreements over how the pension fund is valued and the sudden proposed switch from Defined Benefits to Defined Contributions. There is a legitimate debate by academic experts on the best valuation methodology and appetite to risk. I therefore welcome UUK's announcement earlier this week to bring forward an Independent Expert Panel review into the methodology and processes used in determining the valuation of the USS pension scheme undertaken in September 2017, and I hope this will reset the terms of the discussions. My view is that all parties need to be fairly represented if this review is to have legitimacy. I would therefore like to put forward a number of suggestions on how the review could achieve this:
- UCU and UUK should jointly agree the composition and terms of reference of the review panel. Membership should reflect the legitimate views of the stakeholders in the dispute and include experts who can provide a 'fresh set of eyes' on these issues. I would also suggest that no members of the formal review panel should be active members of the USS scheme or have any affiliation to bodies that are involved in the governance of the scheme;
- Confidence in the review would be increased if the Terms of Reference were published and consulted on with Scheme Membership and UCU before the review formally commences;
- It is critical that full engagement with UCU is undertaken during the review and that UCU is able to comment on the rigour and outcome of the review;
- The review must be seen to be open and transparent and the outcome fully communicated to all existing members of the USS pension scheme.
I have asked colleagues in the Policy Institute at King's to start a project to provide a set of policy options that could be considered by the review both in terms of valuation approaches and the surrounding regulatory framework. This will be an academic endeavour with colleagues from across King's and other academic and non-academic institutions. Clearly, we would like to know the timetable of the review to ensure that we can make a timely contribution.
I will be writing separately to the Pension Regulator to ask them to review and clarify the framework and timeframe for valuing the USS pension scheme so that the context within which the Independent Expert Panel are operating is clear. Given the work of the panel, an extension to the current consultation period would be welcome.
Professor Edward Byrne AC
President & Principal
Following requests from students and staff, we have made available our response to the USS consultation in September 2017. The document can be found on the intranet here.