Student information: 2022 USS and Four Fights

Dear Students,

We write concerning the ongoing disputes that UCU has with our employers, including the University of York. We note that the Vice Chancellor emails you all regularly, but that he has decided that the UCU cannot email in response using the university email lists. We consider this to be problematic. We are therefore grateful that your student representatives have allowed us reach you all through their messaging systems.

As you will no doubt know we are in dispute with our employers over two key issues. The first is the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) pension that many university staff are a part of. We face 30-40% cuts in our pensions based on a valuation that took place in March 2020. We think that anyone that makes a major financial decision based on the value of assets at the start of a global pandemic is not just foolish, they are deliberately misguided.

Our pensions matter because they make working in a university a viable option. This matters to you because without staff you would have no research papers to read, no lecturers, no people to do all of the vital behind the scenes tasks that result in you gaining a degree and importantly, there may not be a viable university sector for the next generation to attend. This part of our disputes is political and will have profound, long-lasting consequences; we need to win to ensure they are positive for us all.

We are also striking over pay and conditions. There is a huge gender pay gap. Similarly, pay gaps exist based on race and disability; this is shameful. We have serious workload problems that make us ill and prevent us from having fulfilling careers. We are casualised; this means that many staff are on fixed term or zero hours contracts and as such cannot make any long-term life, financial or career decisions. Again, what happens to universities if staff don’t have viable jobs? On pay, if you measure the decline since 2009, we are paid circa 20% less than we should be if pay had kept pace with inflation. This combination of poor pay and conditions are making working at a university increasingly unviable for many.

Why are we underpaid, overworked, and suffering from inequitable conditions? We are at a loss. This university, like many others, is making a financial surplus. You, the students, pay huge fees and have, like us, had a hugely disruptive two years of a world dominated by Covid-19. The university management’s answer is to undertake huge changes, support below inflation pay rises for staff and support for the unjustified slashing of staff pensions. This attack on staff is also an attack on students because our working conditions are your learning conditions. A more proper response from our university and the whole the sector would be to lobby government for a more rational and sustainable funding model.

We thank the many students who have come to our pickets, expressed support in other ways and who have continued to push the management of the university to live up to its professed aim of being a university of ‘public good’. We know that our actions are disruptive for your studies. We only undertake them due to the fact that the management of this university and indeed other universities have failed to address serious concerns that we think will ultimately destroy the idea of public sector universities, with all that entails, if they are left unanswered.

Thank you for reading this short email and if you wish to find out more, please see the following website:  https://www.ucu.org.uk/hedisputes

Similarly, you may wish to email our Vice Chancellor to express your concerns in relation to the issues UCU are in dispute over: vc@york.ac.uk

Finally, we welcome any and all questions students may have in relation to our disputes: ucu@york.ac.uk.

In solidarity,

UCU University of York