The Glasgow Guardian has been told by a source close to University management that the University is not in support of University College Union (UCU) members’ pension demands as, if applied, the increased financial responsibility the University would face would put the planned Western Infirmary site move in jeopardy.
Several issues with university pensions have recently come to light, as a result of the focus of the Independent Pensions Regulator on the university sector. The Pensions Regulator has been focusing on a number of university pension schemes as many have become troubled since the financial crash and the university sector is particularly vulnerable financially.
A number of proposed changes have been brought forth for the University Superannuation Scheme (USS), the changes to this particular scheme are the impetus for the UCU marking boycott. The USS is (according to its website) “the principal pension scheme provided by Universities, Higher Education and other associated institutions for their employees”. The scheme, according to the SRC website is in deficit “due to bad investments and longer life expectancy”. The deficit is currently £8 billion in total. In particular, the proposed contribution ratio of staff and the University towards a staff members pension did not satisfy the UCU, who subsequently decided upon a marking boycott, which the Glasgow Guardian reported on previously. The proposed changes would increase the University’s contribution to staff members’ pensions from 16% to 18% of staff salary, while staff members’ own contribution would remain at 6.5% regardless of salary. Our source suggests that the University Trustees and Senior Management Group are afraid that if the UCU’s proposals for increased University contribution beyond 18% were applied, the Independent Pension Regulator would inhibit capital investment in order to ensure the University meets the increased financial responsibility it would face. This would decrease the University’s financial fluidity and could halt investment in the proposed Western Infirmary site move.
Upon further investigation, the Glasgow Guardian found that the University Court had unanimously agreed in June on the Senior Management Group’s proposed measures to address the deficit in the University of Glasgow’s own Pension Scheme (UGPS), which is separate to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS). In the court minutes for the meeting in June, it was noted the University Trustees had previously proposed changes to the UGPS, which had the “potential for capital to be locked for a much longer time than might be necessary”,and that there was “potential for involvement of the Trustees in the management of the campus development being inappropriate.” This illustrates the concern that the discussion of any investment of capital from the University in dealing with pension deficits in general is highly informed by the University’s desire to progress with the Western Infirmary site development.
The Glasgow Guardian, through a number of sources, has come to understand that the University has been employing aggressive “bullying” tactics because of this threat to the campus development, such as those reported in the Herald Scotland by lecturers taking part in the boycott. The Glasgow Guardian has come into possession of a letter addressed to Christine Barr, Human Resources Director at the University of Glasgow, written by Iain Banks, the UCU of Glasgow President. The letter makes explicit reference to the threat of a 100% deduction to participating staff pay that was made by the University in a letter to staff, “outlining the industrial action policy application to action short of a strike”. Banks, in the letter, described this threat as “unduly aggressive at this time”. In that same Herald article, Mary Senior, UCU Scotland official, said: “It is disappointing some universities are using bullying tactics to send threatening emails to staff who are continuing to perform the vast majority of their duties. It is clear there is a growing band of universities that are criticising these damaging plans to take thousands of pounds out of our members’ pensions.” It is the Glasgow Guardian’s understanding that the other universities who are criticising the plans for the USS do not have similar capital investment projects as the University of Glasgow and are therefore more willing to take a critical position.
The Glasgow Guardian contacted the University of Glasgow for a comment on accusations of bullying tactics, who stated: “The University of Glasgow is disappointed at the decision by UCU to call on its members to take part in an assessment and marking boycott over proposed changes to the USS pension scheme. We have been in touch with staff to ask that they consider the impact that such an action might have on our students and to underline that talks between the employers and the unions are continuing. We have also contacted our students to reassure them that we will be doing all that we can to minimise any disruption that the action might cause. Any staff member who does take part in the marking and assessment boycott will be in breach of contract and Glasgow, in line with many other universities, will deduct an element of salary, as a consequence.”
The UCU responded to Glasgow and other universities’ threats of pay docking with a warning that any university which docks 100% of participating staff members’ wages could face a full academic boycott. The BBC reported that this is the Union’s ultimate sanction and has been used just once before in its history. Participating staff members could, under this sanction, refuse to partake in teaching in addition to marking responsibilities. Some students reported to the Glasgow Guardian that their lecturers had claimed to have received an email threatening to dock 100% of their pay. Negotiations to address this conflict began yesterday.
The Glasgow Guardian attempted to contact the UCU for a comment on this issue. They were unavailable at this time.