Staff at UEA will decide whether to take strike action against a new staff pension scheme in a vote.

The union which represents university staff, the Universities and Colleges Union (UCU) oppose a new scheme proposed by the body representing university employers.

Universities UK (UUK) intend to change the system from a defined benefits scheme to what they call a “market-leading” defined contributions scheme.

In the present system, the state of the market does not impact the amount an employee receives when they retire and the employer takes on investment risk. However, the new system places any financial risk or reward on the employee.

If the vote passes, a day of industrial action will take place in February.

Vice Chancellor Professor David Richardson said: “As an institution,  the University does not want to see the interests of our students harmed in any way by industrial action and we would urge colleagues to consider these important pension matters fully and to take the time to make an informed decision.”

Maddie Colledge, Postgraduate Officer for UEA’s students’ union, said she supported academics on the issue. She said: “Given the derisory pay settlements awarded to academics over the past few years, proposals from the national employers body on pensions are a real Christmas kick in the teeth to the heroes here at UEA who teach us.

“Neither students nor academics want this to get as far as industrial action, so we would urge UCEA (who represent universities nationally) to tone down the aggressive rhetoric and get round the table to do all they can to come to a settlement”

Alistair Jarvis, Chief Executive of Universities UK, said the change is needed for long-term sustainability.

“Change is needed to address the scheme’s deficit and the rising cost of future pensions. Our proposals for reform will tackle the scheme’s funding challenges so that universities can continue to offer attractive pensions benefits to staff,” he said.
The option of no reform would be a dangerous gamble that employers are unwilling to take.”

Mr Jarvis called the UCU’s ballot “premature and disappointing”.

The UCU’s vote will close in January.

David Nowell-Smith, a senior lecturer in the Literature, Drama, and Creative Writing school, said he felt the present pension system was “one of the only things protecting the university sector from privatisation by stealth”.

“None of us want to strike, or to disrupt our students’ education; we dedicate our lives to educating our students.

“But we need to defend the university system for future generations of students, and if this is the only way to get our employers to listen, we have no choice.

“The new proposals place liabilities on individual academics, so expect these conglomerates to take over universities, and run them not for the students but for the shareholders.

“So this isn’t just about us being poorer in retirement: it’s about defending universities for future generations.”

What do you think?