On Thursday 15th February, the Keele Postgraduate Association (KPA) membership passed a motion at an Ordinary General Meeting (OGM) that formally declared that the KPA supports the upcoming industrial action the University and College Union (UCU) are undertaking in response to proposed changes to the staff pensions in the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS). The full motion is attached at the end of this statement.
This statement is to formally and publicly declare that the KPA supports UCU and its members in the industrial action that they deem is necessary to protect their pensions. Most importantly, the KPA stands by those of its members who are also members of UCU and joining the industrial action, namely PGR students who teach.
The KPA supports UCU’s industrial action not just because we believe staff are entitled to high quality pensions that they have worked hard for, we also identify that these changes to the pension scheme will have a detrimental impact on our membership in two key ways.
Firstly, these changes will make academia a less appealing profession, thereby making it difficult to attract and retain high quality researchers. This, we believe, will in the long term impact on the quality of teaching and supervision our members wish and deserve to receive. As a result, we believe that the use of our fees to fund increased employer contributions (if this is necessary) is something our members would support if it means the retention and employment of high quality researchers and teachers.
Secondly, these changes will disproportionately affect our members, particularly PGR students, who aspire to enter academia. Our members have made no or little pension contributions and will therefore, if they enter academia, enter this revised scheme without any defined benefits. Given many of our members will be unable to start making any contributions until they are much older than most other adults, due to the study and research commitment required to enter their chosen profession, the current pension scheme is vital to ensure they can achieve a pension that they can retire on. We believe that the hard work and commitment that our membership give to academia should be rewarded and these pension changes will do the opposite.
As a result of the motion passed at the KPA OGM on 15th February, the KPA Committee is now mandated by the membership to fulfil the following actions:
- The KPA formally and publicly support the UCU strike action: This is reflected by this statement. An open letter shall also be sent to the Vice-Chancellor detailing the concerns of the KPA membership and asking him to encourage UUK to restart negotiations.
- The KPA encourage PhD students that teach to join the strike action: The KPA believe that these pension changes will impact on PhD students who aspire to be academics the most. In this light, we encourage them to strike alongside University staff to express to the University their concern that these pension changes will impact on their career prospects. We encourage all PhD students who teach to contact the UCU GTA, PGR and Casual reps, Aimee Merrydrew and Stephen Seabridge, to learn more about the industrial action, how they can be a part of it and in what ways UCU can support them. We also want to remind these students that, according to the government website, they do not have to be a member of the union to legally strike but that it would be in their interests if they were: https://www.gov.uk/industrial-action-strikes/your-employment-rights-during-industrial-action.
- The KPA remind PhD students who teach that they can have free membership of UCU and encourage them to join: As of October 2017, all PhD students who teach are entitled to free membership of UCU. This entitles these students to have access to the resources, support and representation of UCU. The KPA is part of a national campaign with other students’ unions to encourage PhD students who teach to join UCU as we believe UCU membership provides specialist support that we as students’ unions cannot provide. In particular, UCU support and representation is incredibly useful for the employment element of their studies. You can join UCU at any stage, including during the industrial action. To join UCU please follow this link https://www.ucu.org.uk/join.
- The KPA ensures all students receive adequate information as to why this strike is taking place: Attached to the end of this statement is an information pack from UCU for students, a UUK statement and a couple of news articles on the issue. We hope that this provides sufficient information to answer any questions students may have. If students do have any further questions we encourage them to speak to their lecturers/UCU, email the Vice-Chancellor or email the KPA at email@example.com.
- The KPA represents postgraduates concerns (both in terms of the effects of these pension changes and the loss of teaching these strikes will entail) to the University: The open letter to the Vice-Chancellor will detail the concerns that all of our membership have and will ask for the Vice-Chancellor to respond to the concerns that they have raised. We also hope that this statement has communicated these concerns. If postgraduates feel there are any concerns we have not yet raised, or not raised sufficiently, then please do contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will endeavour to pass these concerns onto the University.
The KPA is committed to representing the interests of its members and the support of the UCU industrial action is, as shown by the motion, a key interest of our members. The KPA shall continue, throughout the industrial action, to represent the diverse concerns these strikes and pension changes have on our members to the University. We shall also do all we reasonably can to support our members who decide to strike. Most importantly, however, we stand in solidarity with UCU.
The KPA Committee
(If anybody has any questions or concerns they would like addressed, please contact email@example.com)
UCU Solidarity Pension Changes Affect us Just As Much (Passed Motion)
UCU Student Information Pack
Times Higher Education – UUK Reforms Article
Times Higher Education – Professors warn of recruitment ‘disaster’ over USS changes Article