Please read the open letter to Aston's VC and Deputy-VC and, if you agree with it, then provide your support by signing it HERE.
Dear Alec and Helen,
We are writing to you about the ongoing strike action, related to the sweeping reforms to pension arrangements proposed by Universities UK, which downgrades the USS pension scheme from primarily defined benefit to completely defined contribution. No staff members take industrial action lightly. It is notable on this occasion that many staff from Aston are saying that they have never taken industrial action before but they do so now because of the far-reaching implications of the pensions issue for the future of the Higher Education sector.
At Aston University, we teach our students to base their decisions on an evidence-based analysis of facts. We ask you to join other vice-chancellors who recognise the fundamental importance of using a robust evidence base in taking decisions about the future of the USS, which will affect thousands of lives. Greater transparency is now needed about the assumptions on which the differing valuations of the alleged pensions ‘deficit’ have been based.
Imperial College London has called for a new approach that provides full transparency on the assumptions, data and modelling that have been used by the USS. They are establishing an expert group, including university academics (to which we would be happy to contribute), to look closely at the valuation work and be fully open and transparent about what they find. We ask you to publically support this stance. The vice-chancellor of Oxford has previously stated that "higher education is an ecosystem...Cambridge needs Anglia Ruskin...Anglia Ruskin needs...Cambridge. We are still collegial across the piece even though we are competitors." She has now responded to calls from her staff and Oxford University has reversed its support for the UUK pensions reform. The current proposal from UCU is that universities together accept a small amount of increased risk through a return to the risk level USS proposed in September 2017. We ask you to make a public statement in support of this position.
Any institution is only as good as its staff. Universities, in particular, are organisations that run on the good will and dedication of a wide range of individuals, all working towards the common good. All universities face challenges in balancing their investment in staff, in the form of their pay and pensions, with investment in infrastructure, in the form of buildings and facilities. It is the staff who deliver the teaching and research, and the myriad other activities, on which a university builds its reputation and which transforms the lives of its students and its community; these are the individuals you have called our beneficiaries. Facilities, no matter how wonderful, cannot achieve this in the absence of dedicated staff.
We think that Aston University should now demonstrate strong leadership to avoid a damaging and prolonged industrial dispute with its staff. Many other vice-chancellors support negotiations without preconditions and several have called for either the retention of the direct benefit scheme or a serious enquiry into working out if it can be maintained.
We urge you to lobby hard to find a fair and decent solution, which protects the interests and financial security of staff and restores relationships of trust across the sector. We ask you to consider making a public stand, similar to that taken by the vice-chancellors of Cambridge, Warwick, Glasgow, Loughborough, Aberdeen, Sheffield, Essex, Durham, Birkbeck and Imperial College London.
We urge you and your senior management team to use Aston’s influence to demonstrate active leadership in challenging UUK and seeking to convince it to reconsider its position before the UCU industrial action escalates. We find it hard to recall an employment-related issue that has generated more anger, distress and strong feelings among university staff and students. The current USS proposals – and the ongoing industrial action – will damage the sector, the financial and mental wellbeing of its staff and students, its global competitiveness and its institutional trust relationships and goodwill for decades to come.
We ask you to take this opportunity to demonstrate leadership in this area and work with your dedicated staff to promote an evidence-based and transparent solution to this dispute. The future of our pensions is a shared interest across the sector; we urge you to lead the way in finding common ground.