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SOAS community calls on management to oppose USS pensions proposals

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To Professor Paul Webley,

We, SOAS students and staff, call on SOAS management to use its role in Universities UK (UUK) and the Employers’ Pension Forum to influence the body to pull back from the UUK proposals that will change USS pensions beyond recognition.

The USS pension fund for university staff has released proposals to cut the pensions payable to staff by between 11-27% (a cut of between £3,000 and £12,000 per year), and to change the way they are paid. They say that this is because there is a projected £8bn deficit in the fund. UCU say, backed up by independent studies, that the way that they have worked out the apparent 'deficit' is seriously flawed. The pension fund has seen surpluses year after year (USS Accounts: and membership is growing. The reported 'deficit' of the scheme is predicated on the assumption that a recovery fund must be calculated to pay all future pensions if all USS-scheme universities cease to operate simultaneously (Q7, EPF Q&A,

Recently a group of statisticians said assumptions used by the employers in a separate briefing contained 'misinformation and a mistake' and were not adequately justified. The employers had previously removed a whole section from a different briefing after it was revealed they had misused statistics.

UCU balloted its members during October on whether they would be prepared to take industrial action to put pressure on our employers and the pension fund to negotiate with the union over the proposed changes. Out of 17,212 members who voted, 87% voted for action short of a strike and 78% for a strike. An assessment and examinations boycott has been called for the 6th November and is set to continue indefinitely.

Staff do not want to take industrial action, but feel they have been left with no other choice because of this threat of devastating and permanent changes to their pension scheme. This attack on pensions is the latest attack on university and college staff. Staff’s pay has been cut by 13% in real terms since 2008, teachers’ labour is increasingly being casualised, more and more services are being outsourced, half of universities and two thirds of further education colleges in the UK use zero hours contracts and 12,500 workers in universities are paid less than the Living Wage. Meanwhile there is a £1 billion surplus in the higher education sector and the average salary of a vice-chancellor is £220,000.

All three unions in SOAS, SOAS Students' Union, SOAS UCU branch and SOAS UNISON, have supported calls on the universities employers body (UUK) to withdraw its proposed changes to the pension scheme, and have called on SOAS management (which is a member of UUK) to oppose the current proposals within the employers body. The dispute, and thus the marking boycott, could be ended immediately by UUK withdrawing its proposed changes and agreeing a fair settlement.

We support our teachers in their fight for a fair pension, which many have been paying into all of their working lives, and express solidarity with staff taking part in the marking boycott. We believe these attacks on staff’s pay and pensions are unacceptable. The priority of educational institutions should be to sufficiently support staff to ensure high quality teaching and research, and we believe that attacks on staff’s pay and pensions, and consequent industrial action, negatively impacts teaching quality.

We request that Professor Paul Webley, SOAS Director, the SOAS Executive Board and SOAS Governing Body make a statement opposing the current proposals for the USS pension scheme in terms of the deficit calculation assumptions and the shift to a defined contribution scheme. A number of institutions have challenged various aspects of Universities UK’s handling of the pensions issue, including Cambridge, Oxford, Essex and Warwick.

We believe that SOAS as an institution should advocate a good defined benefit pension scheme that provides a secure and predictable income to staff in retirement, and that not doing so would contradict the values of social justice that are preached in our classrooms and undermine SOAS’ support for its community.

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