Letter to the Warden

Industrial Action 2018

Dear Pat,

Many thanks for your letter concerning the College’s reaction to the forthcoming UCU strikes in opposition to what we believe are unjustified and unnecessary proposals to change the fundamental nature of USS. In particular, thanks for your call for a return to national negotiations though I fear that your comments in the rest of the letter actually undermine such a call and dilute the impact of your claim that ‘all of our staff have a right to good pensions.’

Your main argument appears to be that the College simply cannot afford the increased employer contributions that are apparently necessary to sustain USS at the present levels. In my view, this misrepresents the situation in some important ways.

First, while you state that ‘unlike many other UK universities, we do not consistently achieve financial surpluses’, this contradicts the fact that, as I understand it, the College has achieved surpluses in every year bar one since 2007.

Second, when you argue that ‘what we receive in fees and grants gets paid out in salaries, overheads and interest costs’, this neglects to mention that staff costs, as a proportion of total income, have declined from 62% in 2007 to 60% in 2017. This decline has occurred at a time when income has enormously increased: from £64.4 million in 2007 to nearly £115 million last year. And I would be really interested to know how much we spent on ‘non-staff costs’ back in 2007 as compared to the 29% of income that is devoted to these costs today.

Third, you insist that the proposed increases in employer contributions to USS of between 5.5% and 7% would cost up to an additional £2.8 million a year. In this scenario, you state that the College’s cash balances ‘could soon be exhausted’ if we ran significant deficits each year. This makes no mention of the £25 million in unrestricted reserves identified in the most recent financial report but, more significantly, it simply accepts at face value the highly contested valuation figures adopted by the Universities UK and opposed by UCU.

You argue that this is a really complex area and that ‘we lack the skills to decode and interpret the problem’. I am far from a qualified actuary but even I know that the idea of a pensions deficit is a pretty fluid thing when, only last week, the Pension Protection Fund revealed that the combined deficits of Britain’s remaining final salary pensions schemes – the kind of scheme that UCU members were told was unaffordable back in 2015 and that we were forced to sacrifice – halved in one month alone, from £104 billion to £51 billion.

Yet so certain are Universities UK about the figures in the November ‘Technical Provisions’ that identified a £7.5 billion deficit (mysteriously up from £5.2 billion in September) that our employers are insisting that we all have to wave goodbye to the guarantees of a defined benefit scheme in favour of a much inferior, individual pension pot. Actually, you’re right: it is a very complicated area but why is it – given the uncertainty of the situation – that the employers are so determined to ‘de-risk’ even when they admit that, in the words of USS, ‘the scheme actually has a significant surplus’? Why are the employers so keen to shed the principle of mutuality that has long underpinned USS to move the burden of risk onto individuals and not institutions? Why do you cling to the current valuation instead of challenging the fundamental assumptions that underpin it?

You wouldn’t be alone in asking some tough questions. Recently, the vice-chancellor of Warwick, Stuart Croft, publicly questioned the ‘need for the change in the valuation assumptions last autumn which gave rise to the scale of this challenge’ and called for a ‘return to active negotiations with a real willingness by all sides to explore every option.’ And you certainly wouldn’t be alone in thinking that this move to ‘de-risk’ speaks more about the desire to foster a competitive market inside higher education than it does to protect conditions for staff and to improve the learning experience for students.

I have a hunch that you’re not at all happy with how things have gone and how the negotiations have been dominated by some of the largest institutions. I’m sure you have seen the figures that show that while 75% of Oxbridge institutions want to take financial control of their liabilities and while 73% want to de-mutualise, only 24% and 14% respectively of other USS universities feel the same way.

I know that lots of us at Goldsmiths who are fiercely proud of the ‘Goldsmiths way’ would love for you to take a clear public stand in support of your staff in a way that would also not jeopardise our economic viability. But then I’m sure that the Master of Birkbeck is just as committed to the economic viability of his own institution except that he publicly called for a return to negotiations on the basis of clear support for the existing defined benefits scheme:

The future of the USS pension scheme is a matter of concern to all of us, and I have made clear in the past that my view is that any changes should be based on meaningful negotiation.  Whilst Birkbeck is only one voice, I am now stating publicly that both sides should return to the negotiating table and conduct meaningful negotiations with the preferred outcome being the retention of defined benefit scheme in an affordable form.

This dispute will only be resolved if there are enough individual vice-chancellors prepared to stand up to the ideological intransigence of Universities UK and demand a return to negotiations on the basis that the current proposals exaggerate the scale of the USS’s problems and undermine higher education’s reputation as a desirable and rewarding place to work. I encourage you, once again, publicly to challenge the UUK position and to call for meaningful negotiations on the basis that we need seriously to re-examine the basis for such drastic and unfair proposals.

With best wishes


Des Freedman (Vice President, Goldsmiths UCU), written in a personal capacity


Goldsmiths UCU Teach-Outs

Here it is! The timetable you’ve been waiting for that lists our teach-outs and activities during the proposed 14 days of strike action to defend our pensions.

The timetable is HERE and includes appearances from Gary Younge, Paul Gilroy, Dawn Foster, Faiza Shaheen, Paul Mason, Jeremy Gilbert and even some well-known faces from Goldsmiths.

Events take place either outside the Library on Dixon Road or in the Students Union.

If you have suggestions about other activities, please email gucu-admin@gold.ac.uk

Thanks to our wonderful students at Goldsmiths! Student Assembly passes motion in support of pensions strikes

A packed Student Assembly meeting of over 250 students overwhelmingly passed the following motion. We are hugely grateful to the sabbatical officers and all the students who attended for giving us such amazing support. This fight is for all of us!

Goldsmiths Students Union motion

8 February 2018


 Union notes

  1. University leaders have proposed significant detrimental changes to the agreed terms of the USS (Universities Superannuation Scheme) pension scheme – both to the staff contribution, and the subsequent pension that is received.
  2. Universities UK reported that the changes to the scheme would mean dropping the current ‘defined benefit’ pension; staff will no longer have an assured pension after retirement.
  3. UCU, negotiating on behalf of their members, estimate that a typical lecturer would be more than £200,000 worse off over the course of their retirement under the proposals.
  4. Proposed changes to the pension scheme also mean that someone starting work today could lose £9,600 a year from their pension. This will push lower and working class lecturers out of academic institutions, effectively socially cleansing the sector.
  5. NUS (National Union of Students) and UCU (University and College Union) have united in calling for university leaders to engage in open, faithful and constructive negotiation for as long as it takes in order to resolve this dispute, as a matter of urgency.
  6. UCU balloted its members on the prospect of industrial action, with Goldsmiths UCU branch voting 95.4% yes; one of the highest votes for strike action in the country.
  7. UCU plan to take sustained and incremental strike action to fight against these changes, to take place on  22-23rd February, 26th-28th February, 5th-8th March, and 12th-16th March.

Union believes

  1. Proposed changes to the USS pension scheme is risking the financial future and security of our lecturers.
  2. That the proposed changes to the USS pension scheme is classist, and acts entirely in the interest of the company itself, not its members.
  3. UCU Goldsmiths reached out to our warden, Pat Loughrey, to stand up and speak out against the proposed changes, but he has failed to do so.
  4. This strike has come at the fault of our management team; it is a decision that our lecturers have been forced to take in order to save their future, and the future of higher education.
  5. Goldsmiths belongs to the University of London; it is no excuse to say that Goldsmiths’ warden speaking out will lack value or impact.
  6. Our warden must stand up to the progressive institution that he markets us to be, and speak out against the detrimental UCU cuts.

Union resolves

  1. To support the UCU and NUS united fight against proposed changes to our lecturers pension schemes.
  2. To support any action that our lecturers will take in the fight against the changes to their pension scheme.
  3. To encourage Goldsmiths students to be in partnership with their lecturers in the fight against these changes – impact on the lecturers will consequently impact the students. We must be united in our fight against cuts to the higher education sector.
  4. To encourage students not to cross the picket line.
  5. To redirect students to other alternative study spaces that are not behind the picket line.
  6. To ensure that the library and art/design studio spaces are not behind the picket line.
  7. To be completely transparent with students during the entirety of the strike; keep them informed on the current situation, how they can take action, and how they can be supported.
  8. To seek ways in supporting both staff and student interests during any time of staff action against the pension cuts.
  9. To directly contact the warden on coming back to the negotiation table, and standing against the USS cuts.
  10. To collaborate with UCU on communicating with students on how they can ask for assessment extensions and fee reimbursement



Why are we taking action?

Staff at universities across the UK voted overwhelmingly for strikes and other forms of industrial action to resist savage – and wholly unnecessary –proposals to cut our pensions. Under the new scheme, our pensions will be gambled on the stock market and the average loss for a new starter is likely to be some £208,000.

Why are the employers so determined to push this through?

Universities are raking in huge amounts of money from £9000+ tuition fees but are reluctant to invest this in things that will improve the quality of education: better staff/student ratios, smaller classes, more motivated and secure staff and fewer temporary contracts. Instead vice-chancellors are being paid huge salaries (Goldsmiths’ contribution to the Warden’s pension in 2017 alone was £46,000). This attack on staff pensions is an attempt to shift pensions liabilities from institutions to individuals themselves, and is part of a wider shift in higher education to embrace market forces and competition. It is a situation in which students are seen as ‘customers’ and staff as a ‘cost’ to be minimised.

But aren’t staff at Goldsmiths paid too much already?

Since the introduction of tuition fees, staff costs as a percentage of total income have fallen from 61.8% in 2007 to 60% in 2017. Student fees have not gone into paying staff more!

But isn’t the pension fund in debt?

It depends whose figures you believe. The employers have chosen to use the most pessimistic (and unrealistic) scenario of widespread university closures that, not surprisingly, shows a deficit. In reality, the scheme receives each year much more than it pays out and runs a healthy surplus.

What are staff actually planning to do?

Members of UCU will be on strike on February 22-23, February 26-28, March 5-8 and March 12-16. We will also be ‘working to rule’ which means not taking on any additional or voluntary duties. We will be picketing the College on all these days and organising ‘teach-outs’, short talks by staff and visitors, about a range of relevant topics.

Won’t this hurt students unnecessarily?

The dispute comes about as a result of the refusal of the employers to negotiate seriously. We know that this will have an impact on students, but hope that they will direct their understandable frustration at the employers and not at staff who are seeking to maintain a high-quality university education system. Students can take up their grievances by emailing warden@gold.ac.uk.

What can I do to support the strike if I’m not a member of UCU?

If you’re a member of staff in a relevant grade or a postgraduate student, please join UCU! Whoever you are, please spread the word about the dispute. During the strikes, we would ask everyone NOT to cross our picket lines if at all possible and to take part in the activities we plan to organise. Please email the warden@gold.ac.uk to ask exactly what Goldsmiths is doing to bring the employers back to the negotiating table and how it plans to address the real concerns of staff and students at such a critical time. You can visit www.goldsmithsucu.org to find out more about the dispute.



GUCU Ballot Results

Goldsmiths UCU reached and exceeded the 50% threshold required in the USS Ballot. The results are:

Votes cast in the ballot as a % of individuals who were entitled to vote 59.1%

Result of Voting

Yes  95.4%  No  4.6%

More importantly,  of all institutions with a turnout of more than the required 50%, Goldsmiths had one of the highest vote for strike action in the whole country!

Thank you to all for your support!

More information is available here: https://www.ucu.org.uk/ussballotresult_jan18?utm_source=lyr-contacts&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=reps&utm_term=broff-uss&utm_content=USS+branch+officers%27+update+-+ballot+results

GUCU General Meeting PSH 326.

GUCU General Meeting PSH 326
Due to a Timetabling clash the General Meeting will now be in
Location: PSH 326
Time: 12:30 – 13:30
Date: Thursday 25th January
  • USS Pensions – Ballot Result 
  • London Weighting Campaign
  • Fight Elitism Campaign
  • Gold Paper
  • Event for International /EU colleagues 5 February 
  • NHS Demonstration 3 February
  • March Against Racism 17 March
  • Motions for Conference 
  • AOB


Your Member FAQs re USS, answered by our UCU National Pensions Official.

1. What effects would the proposed changes to the USS pension have for early career academics?
– Early career staff will be the most affected by the changes as they have less built up in the current scheme. They are also more likely to be on less secure contracts. Whatever anyone has built up in the current scheme up to April 2019 will be protected however, going forward under the current UUK proposals they will have no further benefits built up in defined benefit (annual pension linked to salary and service) but will be built up in defined contribution (what you pay is defined but outcome dependent on stock market) which will be a cash sum from which you would have to drawdown until it ran out or buy an annuity (pension) which is very expensive.

2. How do the proposed changes compare to what is happening to pension systems in the private sector, where investment funds are a common pension vehicle even for third sector employers?
– Very like private sector pensions in that the build up is in defined contribution but the death in service and ill health will continue to be defined benefit.3

. Do we know in what kinds of investments our pensions will be held in, if the changes go ahead, and do employees have any control over these investments?
– Thousands of members already build up a defined contribution pot in USS either as an extra and by taking the ‘match’ as a way of getting an extra one percent from employers or if they earn over £55,500 and all salary over that is pensioned as defined contribution. Currently there are 6 choices for members 2 lifestyles (one ethical) and one other ethical but this would expand.

4. I was wondering if it were possible for USS members to have their contributions paid into TPS. If not now, in the future?
– This is an idea we would be happy to explore but it’s not under discussion at the moment.

5. Has the Union produced detailed data of the potential impact on members at different stages of their career i.e. 25, 35, mid-career and say two to three years before intended retiring date?
– The First Actuarial report shows the impact on 12 hypothetical members at different career stages:

Short version:

6. What alternatives are UCU proposing?
– Under discussion but will be governed by conference policy

7. In the event that we do go over to a defined contribution pension, why should the university contribution be 18% to our 9%? (8%, it is only 9% with the match which will go)
– That amount was based on what was needed to support our defined benefit pensions under the USS. (The employers envelope is 18% (until 2020) out of that is deficit recovery, charges, admin, money to keep the defined benefit paying out assuming the employee contributions are not going in; anything left will go into the individual DC pot and all the employee 8% will go into their individual DC pot. The individual will probably get an option to pay less in, which may be attractive to those who feel 8% is too high.
In 2011 the employers only wanted to pay 10% into a DC pot, the current offer is slightly more but the closed defined benefit section will eat money.)

Now that the money would no longer go to that, the amount they provide needs to be enough for us to have a sensible pension given expected returns. If this is above 27%, then they need to contribute more. Can such a calculation be done to determine what they would need to provide to be used in negotiations?
– They don’t think they need to give you enough for a sensible pension they say they won’t contribute more, not can’t, won’t.

8. In the event that we do go over to a defined contribution pension, can we get a non-negotiable guarantee that the universities will indefinitely contribute 18% (or whatever the final amount is) of our salaries into a defined contribution pension? I am concerned since currently the universities pay 18% to our 9% since that it what the USS needed to pay our pension. If the universities are no longer liable to support our pension, what is stopping them from slowly reducing their contribution to our pension?
– They only ever promised 18% to 2020 and signaling they will reduce but as the Defined Benefit has no member contributions going in it will be very expensive.

9. In the event that we do go over to a defined contribution pension, what fraction of the contribution will go towards supporting the defined benefit pensions? If this is any number above 0, why should we be responsible for supporting other people’s benefits? (Anyone in now will have benefits building up until 2019 not just other peoples.)
How can we be guaranteed that none of our money is used to support a defined benefit pension?
– Your money will go into your pot you can see it on the Investment Builder login. Yes the employer will have to pay a lot to keep the DB section, they have a legal duty to pay out pensions already built up.

10. In the event that we do go over to a defined contribution pension, why should USS be the one to manage it? For whatever reasons, they have shown that they are unable to manage our pensions effectively. I don’t see why we can’t get another company to do it.
– Good point one that has been made. However, because it’s so big it can buy investments cheaply and the employer will pay member charges for most options and admin. It is up to the employer not a member what scheme is on offer in a workplace. An employer will only pay in to the one scheme per group of employees so it’s that scheme or no scheme.

11. In the event that we do go over to a defined contribution pension, what happens to our matching 1%? Will this carry on or be removed?
– Whatever happens the match will be removed probably around April 2019. Make the most of it.

12. What kind of pensions are the leaders of the UUK on?
– UUK and USS staff like UCU staff are all in USS. The Vice Chancellors and such are usually earning too much to pay into a pension there is only so much you can pay in for a lifetime if not they are in USS.

13. What happens if all junior members of the USS simply pull out?
– They would love it. It would save employer contributions and not have to provide an alternative, if it is DC it can run as well with 3 people its all about individual pots.

14. If the future accrual of the defined benefit portion of our pensions is set to zero, what does it mean to keep the death and incapability benefit? Do our partners or dependents somehow get our defined benefit pension if we die young? If so, how is that pension calculated?
– In the current UUK proposals Death in Service and Incapacity will remain defined benefit in most DC schemes there would be a lump sum. How this would be calculated is yet to be discussed.

15. In the news, I keep hearing that the issue with the USS all comes down to how future risk is assessed and that since universities are long standing institutions, there is no problem in the long run (e.g. https://www.timeshighereducation.com/…/uss-pension-changes-…). Are the universities being unreasonable about this and if so, how can this be remedied? Can we use a 3rd party to give a fair assessment of the risk to be used in negotiations?
– We have tried and taken our Actuaries, First Actuarial into meetings. No success.

16. How do the changes affect those who are already drawing a pension?
– No change

17. How do the changes affect those who are on a flexible contract and drawing a fraction of their pension from USS?
– No change on pension and same impact on pension building up as other members.

18. Re the new pensions scheme, does this work like the Premium Bond system where one gets the capital (i.e. amount invested back) and then any gains on top on date of retirement or is the whole amount at risk and what you get back depends on how the market is doing on the day one retires?
-The whole amount is at risk.