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USS and Pay

Welcome back for the start of a new, exciting academic year.

You will have received two recent announcements letting you know that it is more expensive than ever to work here. First, news of the 2019-2020 imposed pay award, which – contrary to management’s usual spin – fails substantially to meet UCU’s demands and continues the annual tradition of sub-inflation increases that have led to real pay declining by 20% since 2009. Second, an announcement from USS on August 23rd  that members’ contributions will, if implemented, increase from the current 8.8% to 9.6% on Oct 1st (and then to 11% on Oct 1st 2021 unless altered by a 2020 valuation).

The University’s pay award announcement correctly says that this year’s pay increase is between 1.8% and 3.65%, but the increases are tapered towards the lower three bands of the pay scale. We fully support higher increases for staff on the lowest wages. Nevertheless, the award for UCU members is only 1.8% and we object to the University’s outrageous claim the average pay increase “is above inflation and has also been above inflation over the past five and ten year periods”, which they arrive at by adding annual increments to the 1.8%. This ignores that fact that 50% of staff are at the top of their pay grades, and therefore receive no incremental uplift and rely entirely upon annual pay settlements to maintain their and their families’ standard of living, and is an insult to the loyalty of all staff who stay beyond 4-8 years (depending on the length of grade).


We have also received updated information on pay equality at the University of Manchester. Earlier this year, we learned that the University’s mean gender pay gap increased, rising from 17.1% the previous year to 18.4% this year. But not to worry, we were assured, most of this inequality is explained by the University’s high rate of casualized academic labour (“arises primarily from an increase in the number of casual employees” – Karen Heaton, HR, 14 March 2019), which as we all know is highly feminized.


This is all against the backdrop of unceasing growth in university incomes and continuing healthy surpluses. At the University of Manchester, payroll cost as a percentage of the total running cost of the University has fallen over the last decade. Meanwhile, University financial statements continue to classify the University’s £400 million in (growing) estates debt as a prudent and essential investment, but the £200 million in (stable) liabilities for staff pensions as a volatile source of uncertainty.

Turning to USS pensions, intense negotiations have been taking place throughout the summer. There were further talks between UCU and UUK last Wednesday and the union’s Higher Education Committee (HEC) met last Friday to discuss developments. Our pressure had led to an offer limiting the immediate rise in contributions to 9.1%  (initially  with an impossible-to-accept demand that UCU agree to a two-year moratorium on strike action over USS –  but this was subsequently dropped). However, HEC determined that the offer did not come close enough to meeting our demands, still leaving a future increase to 11% (if the valuation remains the same but potentially more if it doesn’t), and failing fully to implement the recommendations of the JEP first report or  to address fundamental concerns over valuation methodology. We either lock ourselves in to unnecessary ongoing contribution hikes and declining benefits, or we put a stop to it now. An article by Sam Marsh, one of UCU’s negotiators, which explains the background very well, can be found here. UUK’s perspective on their offer can be found here.

You may not closely follow the acronym-soup of USS, UUK, JNC, JEP, HEC and on and on. But you know that the UK’s university system is reaching breaking point. The goodwill upon which it has relied for so long – and which springs from our own passion for our work – has been taken for granted. Its value, in economic and psychological terms, is now obvious to all.


All of these issues – pensions, pay, the gender pay gap, casualisation and workload – are intimately connected. They cannot be solved in isolation. This is why UCU is running a ballot in the coming weeks that will prepare our sector for strike action to make concrete gains in each of these areas.


The autumn will be volatile for myriad reasons in the UK. But that is not an excuse to acquiesce to disastrous working conditions that steadily corrode and erode our educational institutions. We must mobilize and act in solidarity because it is our only option.

Industrial action ballots on USS and pay

Following UCU’s declaration last month of a trade dispute over USS at 69 universities, the union’s Higher Education Committee (HEC) on Friday set out a timetable for two ballots calling for industrial action in the autumn – one over USS in pre-1992 universities and another over pay across the whole HE sector.

The ballots will be disaggregated (i.e. institutions will be polled separately) and run alongside each other from 9th September to 30th October. For the UCU announcement see:

Many of you will have noticed that USS has been much in the news in past weeks and in particular that a parliamentary select committee is investigating the governance of the scheme in the light of recent whistle-blower revelations. UCU also recently addressed letters to university employers updating them on the motions passed at Congress relating to pension contribution increases and requesting that employers cover the total cost of any additional contributions called for by USS Board.

In light of these ongoing developments, we think it important to send around some links and information for those looking to stay up-to-date on the dispute and hear from the parties involved.

On the parliamentary inquiry, please see here:

The President of the Sheffield branch of UCU and national USS negotiator Sam Marsh has composed a recent overview briefing with up-to-date information on the dispute here:

Professor Jane Hutton, one of the three USS trustee directors nominated by UCU, appeared on the BBC 4 Today programme outlining her concerns about governance failings at USS. A recording is available here:

Finally, you can access our own university’s response on 19th June to UCU’s trade dispute letter here:

In the latter response, the University of Manchester indicates a preference for USS’s Option 3 for finalising the 2018 valuation. If accepted by employers and the Pensions Regulator, this would see members’ pension contributions increase from 8.8% to 9.6% in October and employers’ contributions go up from 19.5% to 21.1%, with no change in benefits; this arrangement would hold for for two years and the next valuation would be brought forward to 2020, by which time the Joint Expert Panel (JEP) will have submitted its second report on USS governance and the schemes’ valuation methodology.

This is not in line with the UCU’s ‘No Detriment’ policy and, more importantly, does not implement the full slate of recommendations from the first, September 2018, report of the JEP, which was set up by UCU and UUK in exchange for ending the industrial dispute last year. Importantly, the letter indicates that the University rejects UCU’s demand that employers absorb all the cost of any extra contributions, rather than passing them on to members. As UCU’s incoming General Secretary, Jo Grady, indicated in an email message to members on June 24th: “Instead of holding USS to account, employers are willing to make us pay more and more for the same pension.”

Transfer from fixed term to open ended contracts + ULC and LBAS Members Meeting 24th June

Transfer from fixed term to open ended contracts

It has come to our attention that some UCU members are receiving incorrect information from HR and management regarding their conversion from fixed-term contracts to open-ended (subject to funding and project end dates) contracts after four years.

If you have been in continuous employment with the University on fixed-term contracts for four years with at least one contract renewal, your contract should convert automatically into an open-ended, funding-contingent contract as you are subject to the provisions set out in the University’s Contracts of Employment Policy – see  HERE.

If you qualify for an open-ended contract and haven’t had this confirmed, you should contact HR. Feel free to use this TEMPLATE

email and send it to Karen Heaton, the Director of HR,, who will then refer your request to Faculty HR. You should then receive a response within 21 days.

Meeting for Language Tutors and Language Based Area Studies

We have arranged an informal meeting at 12pm in the Lime Cafe, Samuel Alexander Building this Monday 24th June to discuss how we push forward and organise around the various issues affecting language staff in LBAS and ULC. Blanca, Olivier, & Neil will be joined by David, Pierre and Luke from the UMUCU branch executive committee, and we would like anyone else interested in the affected areas to join us.

Already we have seen some activity, for example through requesting to see contracts, and asking for confirmation of permanence after 4 years. We want to discuss how we get more people involved in doing those things and what other things we can do. We also want to ensure all language staff are connected in to the network and that as many as possible are in UCU.

We think the key issues are:

  • Workload
  • Arrangements for leave
  • Fixed term contracts, and fake permanent subject to funding posts
  • 10 month contracts
  • Promotion  procedures and problems around grading.
  • Proposed restructure

We would like to have groups working around each of these areas, so if you are particularly keen to see progress on any of those issues, or if you just generally want to help us be more organised in either of the two areas, then please come along.



UCU declares trade dispute with University over USS

Following the disappointing failure of employers and USS to accept and implement the recommendations of the Joint Expert Panel set up by UUK and UCU after the USS strikes last year and the decision at UCU’s HE Sector Conference two weekends ago to uphold the union’s No Deficit/No Detriment position, Paul Bridge, UCU’s Head of Higher Education, has sent the University of Manchester and other USS employers letters declaring a trade dispute. Please click HERE for the letter.


Declaring a trade dispute is a precursor  to a statutory ballot on industrial action, the timing of which will be discussed at UCU’s Higher Education Committee later this month. Every effort will be made by UCU nationally to reach an agreement with employers before calling for industrial action to defend our pensions, and we have written to the President, Dame Nancy Rothwell, and Registrar, Patrick Hackett, saying we would be pleased to discuss the matter with them locally.



Online PDRs + REF performance management + Staff Survey

New online PDRs 

It seems the University is moving to an online PDR process that UCU has not been consulted about. Emails being sent to staff say this new process uses the “standard” PDR form. If this is correct, and the online form is essentially the same as the paper version we agreed three years ago, we do not at present see any reason for a fuss. However, it will be a different matter if management are trying to introduce some other type of PREP or “research expectations” process that we have not agreed to.

Therefore, if you are asked to complete an online form, please first compare it with the paper form we have negotiated, which is available at  Then, if they are different, let us know before continuing. We have no objection in principle to an online process, but the specifics of the form must be appropriate for academics and be agreed with UMUCU.


Please also remember that the PDR process is meant to be supportive and helpful and that, while management must offer all staff PDRs, participation is NOT compulsory. Therefore, if you are made to feel under any pressure to participate against your wishes, please contact the UMUCU office.

More performance management

We are again receiving reports of staff being summoned to meetings with their line manager to account for their performance. For example, colleagues who have several publications have been told none of them are good enough and that they will be “performance managed” if they do not get a REF 3* publication by April. Apparently, the line managers concerned are claiming that these meetings are part of the normal PDR process, but they are not; such aggressive performance management is inconsistent with the letter and the spirit of the agreed PDR process. Therefore, if this happens to you, please alert UMUCU so we can bring the matter up in our next Joint Negotiation Committee meeting with the Senior Leadership Team, and do not feel obliged to attend any further meetings before seeking union advice and representation.


Staff Survey – Let’s tell management what we think

The biennial university Staff Survey goes live today. You may remember that the infamous M2020 mass redundancy programme was announced just one week after the end of the last Staff Survey in 2017 – a rather suspicious timing the Senior Leadership Team repeatedly assured us was completely unplanned. Despite the fact that this bad news for hundreds of staff was not yet known, the proportion of staff who  answered positively to the question, “To what extent do you agree the President’s Senior Leadership Team listen to and respond to the views of staff” was only 47%, down from 51% in 2015 and the lowest satisfaction score recorded in the Survey. We will look forward to seeing the response to this question in this year’s Survey.

Emergency General Meeting Wednesday 13th February

There will be an Emergency General Meeting (EGM) next Wednesday, Feb 13th, 12:30-1:30, in the Chemistry Building Room G54, to update members on the current pay ballot and USS negotiations.

The ballot on industrial action over pay and equality ends on February 22nd which means we have just two weeks left to Get The Vote Out and ensure the turnout is over 50%.

Regarding USS, the news is not good. As you know, the Joint Expert Panel (JEP) set up by UCU and UUK completely vindicated our strikes last year and the criticisms very many people, not just UCU, have leveled against the flawed valuation approach adopted by the USS. The JEP panelists came to the unanimous conclusion that current benefits could be maintained with manageable increases in contributions of 1.1% by members and 2.1% by employers – a judgement that has now been endorsed not just by First Actuarial, UCU’s advisors, but also by UUK’s actuarial advisors, Aon.

It is also quite clear that in the recent UUK consultation the majority if not all pre-92 universities have also come down on the side of implementing the JEP recommendations. Even the University of Manchester, which up till now has always been one of the most hardline employers, is now taking this view as can be seen from its submission posted on Staffnet on Jan 25th

However, despite this widespread support for a sensible settlement, it looks like the dispute ‎may be about to flare up again because of the intransigence of the USS Chief Executive, Bill Galvin, and actuary, Mercers, who are (stupidly in our view) refuting the wealth of expert opinion and resisting implementation of the JEP proposals in what looks like a desperate attempt to salvage their professional reputations in the face of myriad criticisms.

If Bill Galvin gets his way, the current USS member contributions of 8% for members and 18% for employers would have to increase to as much as 11.7% for members and 24.9% for employers in April 2020, or benefits (i.e. pensions) will have to be reduced.  This would wreck the USS pension scheme.

We are astonished to learn that the final guidance on the REF 2021 permits the submission of outputs of former staff made redundant! This is cynical and outrageous. UCU nationally is opposed to the new proposal and has written to higher education institutions calling for them to rule out implementing this proposal in their REF code of practice. We expect the University of Manchester to agree with this but if anyone knows of a department intending to submit REF outputs for staff who have been made redundant, please let the UMUCU office know.

Pay and equality ballot: vote YES for strike action and YES for action short of a strike

University employers have refused to improve their 2018 pay offer of 2% despite the fact that inflation has risen again. In July the CPI measure of inflation rose from 2.4% to 2.5% while RPI reached 3.2%. CPI is not expected to drop below the Bank of England’s 2% target until some time in the first half of 2019, which means we are facing yet another fall in real pay despite the fact that university balance sheets continue to show the kind of surpluses many private companies can only dream of.
UCU is therefore balloting members nationally on industrial action to support our joint pay claim with the other four UK HE sector trade unions, which includes:
  • 7.5% or £1500 increase in pay, whichever is greater, to catch up on the massive 21% cut in real pay we have experienced since 2010,
  • action to close the Gender Pay Gap by 2020,
  • action on casualisation and precarious contracts,
  • recognition of excessive workloads and stress.
Your ballot paper should arrive in the week after August 30th and a successful vote for action can only proceed if at least 50% of members vote. Therefore, please do not delay, please post your vote back promptly.  You can check that your postal address is up to date by using this link.
As was demonstrated by the Staffnet news item on 7th June, Update on pay negotiations, which scandalously presented the 2% offer as an above inflation pay increase, we cannot expect any generosity or sympathy from the University’s (very well paid) Senior Leadership Team. This outrageous claim, which was reached by adding the average incremental pay increase awarded to staff to the 2% offer,  just goes to show how out of touch they are and how little they truly value staff – 44% of whom are at the top of their grade, so will receive no incremental increase this year, and rely entirely on annual pay settlements to maintain their and their families’ standard of living.
Therefore, please look out for your ballot paper and vote YES to strike action and YES to action short of a strike.
Further information, including posters and leaflets, can be found here:

Support for UMSU

Statement in support of UMSU

UMUCU offer full support to the University of Manchester Students’ Union for the action taken by your officers in painting over the “If” poem by Rudyard Kipling  and replacing it with “Still I rise” by Maya Angelou.  We believe the Students’ Union officers should have been consulted over the choice of poem, and that any such public display of poetry should be sensitive to Equality and Diversity Issues and be reflective of our diverse student body.  We further understand that this action has led to thoroughly reprehensible abuse and death threats via social media that we completely deplore.

USS Dispute Latest Update

Consultative ballot result

The result of the members consultation on accepting the latest proposal on ending the dispute from the employers was as follows:

Total balloted: 53,415
Total votes cast: 33,973
Total number valid votes: 33,913
Turnout: 63.5%

Yes to accept the UUK offer 21,683 (64%)
No to reject the UUK offer 12,230 (36%)

In line with the decision of members all current and future industrial action is suspended but the union will keep the legal strike mandate live until the agreement between UCU and UUK is noted by USS.

USS Dispute Update 29th March

As you will have seen from Sally Hunt’s email, the Higher Education Committee have decided to consult with members about the latest proposal regarding the USS dispute.  Her email also contains some background material and further information.  Here I will update on our local survey and discussions, and the meeting of branch delegates I attended in London yesterday.

As we all know from student feedback, the comments from a survey are often as useful as the tick boxes.  In the case of our survey on the proposals there was overlap between the points and questions raised by members, whichever box they ticked (ballot now, don’t ballot at this point or don’t know).  A very similar range of points were also raised by the branch delegates so I’ll go through the points raised, some information from the delegate meeting and some of my own views.

An important point raised in our survey and by delegates is about what happens if the USS board and/or the regulator acts in a way which means it is not possible to proceed with the proposal.  As Sally noted in her email, the regulator has made it clear he sees this as an opportunity to bring all sides together.  She also revealed that the regulator indicated to USS that USS has sufficient contingencies in place.  Finally, UCU and UUK have seven members of the USS trustees between them.  However, we do have to prepare for any eventuality, which is why UCU is going ahead with notifying employers about future strike action.  In our case, this begins with a week of strikes starting 16 April, and further days in May/June aimed at the peak exam-marking time.  We have to be prepared to take action if necessary.

There were many comments (from the survey and other delegates) along the lines “No-one trusts UUK”.  I think we’re right to be cautious, and it doesn’t help when UUK seems to lurch from one position to another.  The best we can do is prevail on the more “friendly” VCs (unfortunately I’m not convinced this includes our own) to keep pressing UUK to act reasonably, and, for example, to make sensible choices of their representatives on the expert panel, if we accept this proposal.

Many concerns were raised about ambiguous wording of aspects of the proposal.  Some of these have been clarified by subsequent statements, but clearly if these are not interpreted in the way we expect them to be we may need to take action in the future – but I think the employers now realise we can and will.  A point raised by the survey was clarification about how we are going to select our members of the expert panel (and this was a point I focussed on at the delegate meeting).  This is a very important point, since it is the members of the panel that will be interpreting the sometimes ambiguous wording.  It is essential therefore, that the members of the panel have the necessary combination of academic and financial expertise, but also share our understanding of what, for example, is meant by terms such as “broadly comparable” (and what isn’t).

There were questions about what happens after April 2019.  There will be a DB scheme running for the next three year cycle (2019-2022), the terms of which will be “broadly comparable” with the current scheme.

Thus there were a significant number of respondents and delegates who wanted more detail, clarification or assurances about elements of the proposal.  A significant minority of respondents to our survey, a significant number of people at the local discussion on Tuesday, and some branches reporting back yesterday, wanted more substantial revision of the wording of the proposal document.

Within our survey, the comments from those who wished us to ballot now (in addition to questions of clarification mentioned already) included that it was important that the membership now had a say on the proposals and a fear we would lose support (from members and others, such as students) if we did not ballot now.

Overall results from our survey that I reported to the delegate meeting (based on the numbers available then): were 638 completed surveys, 57% ballot now, 31% do not ballot at this point and 12% don’t know.

Sally has indicated we will be given supporting information alongside the proposals.  I encourage us all to take a well-earned break over the Easter weekend, and then to carefully consider the information once it comes out next week.

Finally, on a completely different matter, some of you will know that we had support from UNITE members at Fujitsu during our strikes.  They have an ongoing dispute, see  HERE for details and would welcome people joining their protests during their strike days next week (Tuesday to Friday, 7 to 10am).

Yours in solidarity

Gregory Lane-Serff

President, UMUCU