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Open letter to the Vice Chancellor’s Executive (VCE) of The Open University

21st February 2018
As we sit on the brink of an industrial action that nobody wants, it is not too late for the Open University to take a leadership position in averting these strikes. We urge you to consider the recent comments of Anthony Forster, the Vice Chancellor of Essex University (see http://blogs.essex.ac.uk/vc/)

  • “We believe high-quality pension arrangements are a significant part of the benefits available to our employees.
  • We feel the USS trustees are being overly prudent in their assumptions, which will potentially undervalue assets and overestimate potential liabilities".

In making this statement, he joins an increasing number of leaders from other universities including Loughborough University, University of Glasgow, Warwick University, Birkbeck University of London, Goldsmiths University of London, University of Strathclyde and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Many other VCs are believed to be privately in favour of reopening negotiations.
This reflects a growing consensus that the method used for valuing USS is deeply flawed and does not reflect the strength of the scheme.
We urge you, as the senior management of the UK’s largest higher education institution, to demonstrate your commitment to your staff by joining these leaders in calling for a return to good faith negotiations. Taking this stance would be an important step in rebuilding trust between the VCE and the hardworking staff of this university - trust that is vital for future success. Of all the USS institutions, the OU is the one most in competition with the post-92 HEIs who offer the Teachers’ Pension Scheme. TPS is unlikely to be downgraded any time soon, and as long as their scheme is substantially better these institutions will be well-placed to recruit competitively with and from the OU, at a time when the current transformation plan makes the retention of our skilled staff a key ingredient in our future survival.
We dislike taking industrial action. It is expensive, disruptive, damaging, and stressful for all concerned. To avoid this, all we are asking for is constructive engagement in finding a long-term settlement to preserve the integrity of USS pensions. As a vital component in recruitment and retention of staff, decent pension provision is essential to the quality of our programmes and the long-term viability of the university.
Please join UCU and the university leaders listed above in urging the employers’ side to return to the negotiating table.
To quote Anthony Forster, ‘The shared interest of all stakeholders should place an obligation on all parties to look to find imaginative and sustainable ways of delivering this goal – principled compromise is the answer.’

Yours sincerely

OU branch of UCU Executive Committee

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