Students protest outside Old Schools during the occupation on Monday nightLouis Ashworth

The University and Colleges Union (UCU) and Universities UK (UUK) have reached an agreement in the ongoing pensions controversy, potentially bringing an end to 14 days of industrial strike action. The news emerged on the same evening as Cambridge Defend Education’s occupation of the Old Schools building on Trinity Lane, and Stephen Toope’s decision to support a return to a defined benefits pension scheme.

In a joint statement released today, the UCU and UUK said that they expected the strike to be suspended tomorrow, following a meeting of of UCU’s Higher Education Committee. This means that teaching will resume on Wednesday 14th, the last day of Cambridge teaching for Lent Term.

An estimated 30 students from Cambridge Defend Education (CDE) are currently occupying Old Schools, the University’s administrative centre, as part of the strike action. The current occupation forms part of a student effort “in support of staff striking to defend their pensions.”

Matt Kite, a member of CDE and CUSU education officer-elect, told Varsity: “The agreement that’s come from UCU and UUK on their talk today has yet to be put to UCU members. We don’t know what UCU will do with that agreement and so long as they haven’t decided what their line is, the strikes will continue and we will continue supporting those strikes.

Staff have been striking over an ongoing pensions disputeLouis Ashworth

“So long as UCU are continuing the strikes, which they will do until UCU agree to the new deal which UUK propose, we’ll continue to support the strikes and we’ll continue the occupation.”

UCU and UUK agreed today to a three-year transitional arrangement, starting from 1st April 2019. During this time, a “meaningful level of defined benefits” will be maintained for all scheme members. This will involve both employer and employee contributions to pensions increasing.

They have agreed to convene an “independent expert valuation group” to assess the scheme’s valuation and methodology during the three year interim period. UCU has previously criticised the scheme for being overly pessimistic in calculating its deficit.

A statement concerning the agreement says that the current solution being fixed for only three years incentivises “both sides to engage in meaningful discussions as soon as possible to explore risk sharing alternatives for the future from 2020”.

To help rebuild trust between the parties, UUK is asking institutions to consider the ways in which the financial effect of the strike on Graduate Teaching Assistants, who are particularly affected, can be minimised. UCU will encourage its members to “prioritise the rescheduling of teaching in order to minimise the disruption to students”. It has previously been unclear whether students might be examined on material whose lectures they had missed due to strikes.

The occupation of Old Schools came almost simultaneously with an announcement on the part of Stephen Toope, vice-chancellor of the University. Writing before the announcement from UCU and UUK, he stated that Cambridge will support “higher pension contributions to support a defined benefit pension in the USS”. He added that the University is “now ready to act without delay,” when UCU and UUK come to a consensus. He also said this is the “right short term resolution” to the impasse over pensions.

Members of Cambridge’s UCU branch have condemned today’s dealJamie Hancock

The Cambridge UCU released a statement tonight about the agreement, signed by 45 union members, declaring its “disappointment and frustration” and pushing for “far stronger protections to members’ pensions”.

They describe the proposed agreement as offering “no guarantees about the future of our pensions” after the three year interim, and providing “an absurd commitment to reschedule lost teaching”.

The union will convene tomorrow at 10am for an emergency meeting at Great St. Mary's Church for further discussion, following a diversion of all picket lines to the Old Schools picket at 7:30am.


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LIVE: Students occupy Old Schools in strike protest

UCU members are currently striking over planned changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS). The changes would replace defined benefit pension schemes for university staff with defined contribution schemes. Whilst defined benefit schemes offer a guaranteed income upon retirement, the value of defined contribution schemes depends on returns from underlying investments in the stock market. UCU claims that the change would leave a typical lecturer almost £10,000 a year worse off in retirement.

Stephen Toope last week came out in support of the pensions fund taking less risk in the short-term, but did not specify a preservation of the defined benefits scheme. This was highlighted in an event on King’s Parade on Thursday, when students demanded Stephen Toope make an appearance, and unsuccessfully tried to storm the Old Schools building.

  • This article was updated to include a statement from the Cambridge UCU