Staff and students frozen out: VC goes it alone in UCU pension negotiation

The Vice Chancellor Adam Tickell has frozen out staff and students in negotiations on pensions as he becomes the only VC to negotiate on behalf of Universities UK (UUK). While other VCs across the country are shifting their positions. 

Adam Tickell Alone

VC Adam Tickell goes it alone.

This is the 3rd week of strike action taken by the University and College Union (UCU) members over proposed changes to staff pensions.

Communication between management and staff has changed. In a reply to an open letter written by a mixture of lectures and doctoral student at Sussex, the VC has stated that: “after the first day of mediated talks, UUK asked me to join the negotiating team at ACAS. I am the only Vice Chancellor involved in this group. We agreed at our meeting yesterday, and reiterated today, that no member of either team would comment on any matter relating to the industrial action.” And so there has been a freeze in direct communication with the VC. This has instead been delegated to less senior members of his team, such as including deputy VC Saul Becker, who met with students on Wednesday.

These changes have roots in a UUK consultation that took place last September during which a large number of universities sought to decrease the risk on the collective pension pot used by universities. The figures used in this consultation have come under heavy criticism over the last week.

This has lead one staff member, Gurminder Bhambra, a professor of Postcolonial and Decolonial Studies at Sussex, to tweet: “institutions are beginning to admit failing to exercise due diligence prior to rejecting the Sept valuation, which has led to our current dispute, what justification is there in docking our wages? And how can we reform our governance procedures?”

The news about Tickell joining the negotiations broke only a day after The University of Oxford climbed down and performed U-turn on how the scheme should be run.

Vice chancellors from other universities have mooted their unease with the situation over the last week, giving a further argument that the September valuations were incorrect. With Stuart Croft, the University of Warwick vice-chancellor going as far to announce that, “If USS becomes government-backed, concerns are significantly mitigated.”

The Sussex open letter has been signed by 600 people so far. It outlines concerns about the proposed changes to pensions. The signatories agree that: “the proposed pension cuts will have a devastating impact on the financial security and well-being of many staff here at Sussex.” Further adding that: “not only are the UUK proposals harmful and ill-conceived, there is a strong case to say that they are unnecessary: the notional deficit rests upon contestable assumptions and there are alternative unexplored options to ensure the viability of the scheme. We are concerned that the proposals will do irreparable damage to the international reputation of the UK higher education sector and its ability to recruit and retain staff.”

The full text and VC’s reply can be found online.

UUK and UCU will return to the negotiating table today. 

When approached for comment from the university, a spokesperson told The Badger: “in order to move towards a resolution to the dispute, both sides agreed to conciliation talks with the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas). Those talks have been taking place every day since Monday (5 March). Adam Tickell, joined the UUK negotiating team on Monday at Acas.

“As members of the negotiating team have agreed not to comment on matters relating to the current industrial action, the Vice-Chancellor is unable to provide any additional comment at this stage.”

*Edited for clarity, and what action has been taken by other VCs*

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