Newnham Principal writes to Chief Executive of Universities UK to urge him to take action in USS pensions dispute

From the Principal

Professor Dame Carol Black DBE FRCP FMedSci

13th March 2018

Dear Mr Jarvis,

May I first make clear that, as was the case for many Cambridge Colleges, Newnham did not respond to the UUK survey of employers that was sent round in September 2017. The survey came at a time when no meeting of our Governing Body or Council was scheduled, and when many of their members were away from Cambridge, so that no considered response could be formulated before the deadline passed.

The Governing Body of Newnham College has since then, on Thursday 8 March, considered the proposed changes to USS pensions, and the difficulties that the current dispute is causing for the College and its members. I have been asked to communicate to UUK the strong views that emerged from that meeting. Many members of the Governing Body are active contributing members of USS, most primarily through holding a post in Cambridge University. The College itself is an employer with 94 active USS members, 13 of them academic and the remainder staff members.

Like many academics, members of the Governing Body of Newnham are extremely concerned about the steady decline, over a decade or more, in their financial position, as to salary and pensions, relative to other professions and the cost of living.  This is a matter of importance not only to the current staff but also in recruiting future academics – the general impression now being given to bright young graduates considering their career options, with yet another turn of the screw, is very depressing and discouraging.   As a women’s college, Newnham is particularly concerned at the continued drive towards defined contribution schemes, as these are likely to particularly disadvantage women given the gender pay gap, and often slower promotion due to family responsibilities, amongst other things.

Members of the Governing Body are also concerned by recent variations in the actuarial valuation of USS regarding estimates of future outcomes, and by the proposed substantial transfer of risk onto employees. As well as questioning the underlying assumptions behind the valuation, the Governing Body was very critical of the consultative process, which has been notably opaque.

The Governing Body of Newnham College urges swift and constructive action by UUK in response to the many profound concerns and questions raised about the current pensions proposal.

Kind regards

Carol Black