UUK & UCU Negotiations Continue Amidst Twitter Meltdown
Week three of industrial action saw UCU and UUK enter into official negotiations via mediation service, Acas. Talks began on Monday 5 March but quickly came to a close when UUK informed UCU that they would not be able to meet again to discuss UCU’s tabled proposals until Wednesday 7 March.
UCU claimed that they had delivered their proposals to UUK a week before talks were scheduled to begin. UUK in their press release said that the ‘proposal put forward by UCU had not been properly costed with USS’ and thus they were delaying any further talks so that the proposal could be recosted accordingly.
UCU hit back saying ‘we have cleared our diary, but we cannot negotiate with a row of empty chairs’. Angered UCU members proceeded to take to Twitter, asking UUK why they hadn’t realised that the proposals needed recosting sooner, pushing for talks to resume on Tuesday 6 March instead.
The back and forth that ensued on Twitter saw UUK claim on multiple occasions that they were in fact ‘happy to meet with UCU tomorrow’ but when pushed further repeated that they needed more time for recosting the proposals.
UCU in response to UUK’s seeming change of mind proceeded, again via Twitter, to ask UUK to make the proper arrangements with Acas to meet the following day, Tuesday 6 March.
Consequentially, talks were reinstated for the rest of the week, beginning at 12pm on Tuesday 6 March with strike action continuing. When talks adjourned for the weekend on Friday 9 March, UCU reported that there had been ‘constructive engagement and progress on the challenging issues in the dispute’. UCU maintained that strike action would indeed continue into week four.
As discussions continued, the position of Oxford and Cambridge has come under increased scrutiny. When UUK first looked to make changes to USS, they released a survey for institutions to submit their position on where risk should be best placed. It is alleged that wealthy colleges of Oxford and Cambridge were given the same weighting as large institutions and that their vote was counted alongside the individual vote of Oxford and Cambridge universities.
This would, if these colleges had voted in favour of the closure of defined benefit, have distorted the vote and enabled UUK’s hardline response to USS. The USS spokesperson categorically denied these accusations, responding that, “Oxbridge votes did not distort the UUK pension risk survey – we consulted more than 350 USS employers, all the USS employers, as we are obliged to do, and took account of all the responses we received.”
This is despite King’s College of Cambridge University coming forward to say that their response to the UUK/USS survey ‘was not, and should not have been taken as, the considered view of the college’.
In light of the allegations that Oxford and Cambridge’s position was propping up UUK’s hardline stance, Oxford University joined the ranks of Manchester, St Andrews, Warwick and Imperial College in overturning and distancing themselves from the UUK position on USS reform. On Wednesday 7 March, Oxford’s vice-chancellor, Louise Richardson, sent an email stating that the university council ‘will be recommending that council reverse its response to the UUK survey in line with congregation’s resolution’.
Cambridge’s position also looks more precarious as over a 100 senior academics have written to vice-chancellor Stephen Toope to ask him to call in similar fashion to Imperial College for an independent panel of pension experts to examine the USS fund.