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University bosses agree meeting with union amid pensions row

Universities UK called on the University and College Union to attend talks next Tuesday.

University bosses and union officials have agreed to meet next week for talks in the latest stage of a bitter row over pensions.

As workers ended a second day of walkouts, Universities UK called on the University and College Union to attend talks on the pension scheme next Tuesday, February 27.

UCU said it would be at the meeting but warned that unless employers were prepared to discuss the current proposal on the table it did not see how the dispute could be resolved.

It is understood that at this stage, Monday’s strike will go ahead as planned.

In a statement, UUK said: “It is of paramount importance that both sides make every effort to meet – despite the ongoing industrial action – to stop any impact and disruption to students.”

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said: “Because this is so serious for students and for staff we will of course attend. I am however very concerned that UUK has explicitly ruled out discussing the imposed changes that have caused the strikes.

“The universities minister was very clear that he wanted talks without preconditions and we hope UUK will reconsider his words before we meet on Tuesday. We remain committed to serious negotiations aimed at resolving this dispute.”

The dispute centres on proposals put forward by UUK in January for the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) which would see it move from a “defined benefit” scheme, which gives workers a guaranteed income in their retirement, to become a “defined contribution” scheme, in which pensions are subject to fluctuations in the stock market.

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Students in Leeds city centre support university workers (Danny Lawson/PA)

UUK maintains that the pension scheme has a deficit of more than £6 billion that cannot be ignored and that it has met union officials more than 35 times to discuss reforms.

UCU argues that the current proposals would leave a typical lecturer almost £10,000 a year worse off in retirement.

In its statement, UUK reiterated that it has “never refused” to continue to try to find an “affordable, mutually acceptable solution” and that it would be “willing to discuss a credible proposal that addresses the significant financial issues the scheme is facing”.

It also notes that talks would not revisit the existing January proposals, but UUK has said it is open to any credible and affordable proposal that has not yet been considered.

Workers began walkouts at 57 institutions on Thursday, in the first wave of action that will continue in the coming weeks if there is no resolution, building up to a five-day walkout in the week beginning March 12, by which time 64 universities will be affected.

Universities Minister Sam Gyimah has called on both parties to resume talks, saying he was “deeply concerned” about the impact strikes would have on students.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn sent “solidarity and thanks” to university workers and urged employers to commit to negotiations.

A number of vice-chancellors have shown their support for the industrial action, including Professor Chris Day of Newcastle University, who tweeted: “I absolutely support staff’s decision to strike”.

Students have joined university staff on picket lines, while there have been reports that tens of thousands of students have signed petitions demanding compensation for lost classes.

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