CHAIR STATEMENT: ON THE BRUNEL VC/UUK PRESIDENT’S COMMENTS IN PROFESSIONAL PENSIONS (8 OCTOBER 2021)

ON THE BRUNEL VC/UUK PRESIDENT’S COMMENTS

IN PROFESSIONAL PENSIONS (8 OCTOBER 2021)

STANLEY O. GAINES, JR. (BRUNEL UCU BRANCH CHAIR)

13 OCTOBER 2021

Across the UK, pensions officers for UCU Branches learned about an online article (originally posted on the Professional Pensions Web site, 8 October 2021) that featured comments by the Brunel University London Vice Chancellor (and President of Universities UK) concerning the USS pension scheme. The Brunel VC/UUK President’s comments are extraordinary in explicitly tying (1) USS’s (and UCU)’s prospective failure to implement UUK’s flawed proposal for changing pension contributions with (2) Brunel University London’s (and, presumably, all UUK-affiliated employers’) prospective mass redundancies in the near future. Here are the Brunel VC/UUK President’s own words on the future of USS pensions (and the future of higher education employees’ jobs, whether those employees are USS members or not):

The spectre of higher contributions is causing a great deal of worry for university leaders. Staff have worked immensely hard through the extremely challenging conditions forced on us by the Covid-19 pandemic, and it would be an utter travesty if further pension contributions hikes led to more staff not joining the scheme because of the cost, a further exodus of current staff members from the scheme because they cannot afford to pay in more, and mass redundancies as employers have to cut back elsewhere to pay higher pension costs. With so much financial uncertainty currently engulfing universities, and the significant financial pressures last year brought due to loss of commercial income and additional spending to make campuses Covid-secure and move teaching and support online, now is the time to shore up USS by making changes that guarantee good pension benefits without significant additional costs.

I note that this is the same Brunel VC/UUK President who failed to support the 7-point plan than the national UCU headquarters had proposed for the UK government to invest in UK universities (released on 2 April 2020 — shortly after the first COVID-triggered lockdowns were imposed within the UK and around the world). Imagine what combined pressure UUK and UCU could have brought to bear upon the UK government to provide adequate COVID-era funding for higher education institutions, just as the global pandemic had begun to upend lives and livelihoods in a manner that had not been witnessed since another pandemic ravaged humanity a century ago. One must wonder why the Brunel VC/UUK President waited for so long to publicly acknowledge the scale of the financial difficulties that UCU had anticipated so soon after the lockdowns began, and why the USS pension scheme (rather than UUK’s own inadequate, piecemeal request to the UK government on 9 April 2020) has emerged as the Brunel VC/UUK President’s scapegoat for raising the spectre of widespread job losses at Brunel and across the UK.

Not only should Brunel UCU members be concerned; but UCU at all levels (Branches, Regional Offices, and National Headquarters) should be outraged. Let us regard the Brunel VC/UUK President’s comments as fighting words; and let us cast our ballots for industrial action against UUK employers, in Uxbridge and beyond.