USS Strike: A list of blog posts and resources

One of the most inspiring things about being involved in the UCU USS pensions strike has been the outpouring of generosity and solidarity that colleagues have demonstrated towards each other online. If you have been following the  ucustrike, USSStrike and ExeterOccupy hashtags on Twitter, you will already know what I mean.

Just as emboldening and enlightening are the myriad articles and blog posts which have told the story of this strike from a range of perspectives: from personal posts explaining why individuals do not want to strike, but feel compelled to nevertheless, to Michael Otsuka’s forensic examinations of the USS pension ‘deficit’, to Liz Morrish’s exhortations to use this ‘teachable moment’ to create a vision for a better future in Higher Education.

Here are a few that I have collected. I hope you find them as useful and inspiring as I have.


USS deficit traced to 1997 employer contribution cut by 4.55% of salaries, by Michael Otsuka

‘Had employers not reduced their contributions into the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) from an 18.55% level in 1997 — which is higher than what is now claimed the limits of affordability — the scheme would not now be in deficit.’



‘There are some other very positive things have come out of this strike, and more will follow. Perhaps the most conspicuous gain is that there has been a mass recognition of the value of solidarity, together with the sheer joy of strikers finding they do indeed belong to a community.’


Why I don’t want to go on strike, by Anonymous

‘Like many of my colleagues, when I voted for strike action on this issue of academic pensions, I thought we would be striking for a day or perhaps two in line with previous action. When the announcement of 14 strike days was made, I was devastated. But for those who say they understand our point of view but think we should find another way to make our point, please remember that if we walk away from our union and what they ask of us, we have no-one to protect us or our rights as workers.’


Why We Strike, by Waseem Yaqoob

‘What is proposed is a textbook case of the dismantling of a shared good through financialisation. If our pensions are dependent on investment performance, risks that were once shared will be borne by individual USS members.’


Why I am supporting the strike, by Anonymous (an open letter to students on Google docs)

‘Some may be cynical about the effectiveness of strikes. While cynicism is understandable given the government’s bulldozing of policies in the face of popular unrest, the alternative is doing nothing and simply accepting disempowerment at the face of a faceless administrative ‘logic’. Obviously it is up to the individual if they choose to support the strike, but what is certain here is that this decision is neither frivolous nor desirable. Resist.’


Why I’ve asked students not to attend lectures for the first time – University lecturer explains the strike is about ‘much more than pensions’, by Rowan Tomlinson

‘We stand to lose the safety net of a guaranteed pension income (a ‘defined benefit’ pension) and instead our retirement security will depend entirely on the way markets perform. Under the new system, individuals will be left shouldering all the risk and the institutions who pay us will be completely insulated from it.

In my own case, if I pay into my pension for the next 30 years, the change will see me move from an annual retirement income of £22,000 to one that might, if I’m lucky, be worth £10,000 a year.’


Six points on the eve of the UCU strike, by Jamie Woodcock

‘There are two points worth noting about this pension scheme. First, while employers pay into the scheme, so do we. Second, the pension scheme has already partly been sold out. This means that early career academic workers already get a worse deal in USS. Instead of their pension being based on their final salary at retirement (which would mean more) it is now based on their career average (which would be less). Furthermore, academic workers in post-92 institutions are on a different pension scheme.’


Against the marketisation of our education, by Josh Newman

‘It is clear that the significance of this strike action goes above and beyond personal retirement funds; it is a stand against the aggressive marketisation of public education.’


The rotten boroughs of the Isis and the Fens: 
On the implausibility of the Registrar’s denial of disproportionate Oxbridge influence, by Michael Otsuka

In an article in the Guardian entitled ‘Universities strike blamed on vote by Oxbridge colleges’, Richard Adams reports that “the employers’ backing” of “policies resulting in the harsh cuts” to USS pensions “may have been distorted by giving a number of small, wealthy Oxford and Cambridge colleges the same weight in a crucial survey used to set policy as large universities were given”.


USS deficit traced to 1997 employer contribution cut by 4.55% of salaries, by Michael Otsuka

‘Had employers not reduced their contributions into the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) from an 18.55% level in 1997 — which is higher than what is now claimed the limits of affordability — the scheme would not now be in deficit.’


The crisis of legitimation in Higher Education, by Clive Barnett

‘You can tell that University administration has become dysfunctional when it becomes normal for everyone to refer to senior managers from the VC downwards by their first names.’


Made in Westminster: The source of the USS ‘crisis’ – and the solution, by Sean Wallis

‘[The USS ‘crisis’] is the result of the misrepresentation of the finances of the USS, and the desire of a new breed of university managements to cut their pension liabilities and thereby ease the financing of new buildings and campuses.’


The staff stress and sickness epidemic occurring in Universities across the UK, by the We are Higher Education Network

‘Access to Counselling Services by staff employed at Higher Education Institutions in the UK between 2009 and 2015 has risen by 77%, with a rise of 64% of staff referrals to Occupational Health services during the same period, the preliminary findings of a study reveal.’


Picket lines and strikes are what real politics looks like, by Alice Hawkins

‘Sidgwick Site at 9am on a Monday morning: this is what real politics looks like. It’s a steadfast, ongoing display of resistance. It’s the acting upon principles that can’t be reconciled with a simple continuation of day to day existence. It’s uncomfortable, it’s challenging. It’s the navigating of boundaries; physical, ideological, and ethical. It is sacrifice.’


USS is the tip of the iceberg. Our pensions system is a hot mess, by Christine Berry

‘As a current postgraduate student, I’m supporting my striking lecturers all the way. But I also think it’s crucial that we use these strikes as a wakeup call. What’s being proposed for USS members is no worse than what faces millions of us when we retire – and probably better than many of us. The difference is that, like the frog slowly boiling in a pot of water, we don’t realise it.’


An end in sight for the neoliberal university, by Iida Käyhkö and Charlie Macnamara

‘In the last two weeks, University College London’s (UCL) academic board and its students’ union have both passed votes of no confidence in the governance of the university. These votes represent the first steps in the rejection and replacement of corporate models of governance—a core pillar of the neoliberal university project, for which UCL has been a flagship.’


“You break it – you own it”: Why employers must pay for the 2.4bn rise in the USS deficit, by Michael Otsuka

‘According to the ‘Pottery Barn rule’, you break it, you own it. Employers have broken the valuation. And they must own the consequences.’


A few things Vice Chancellors might learn from the USS strikes, by Liz Morrish

‘This strike is not just about pensions and nobody chooses insecurity. The campaign for sustainable careers will continue and will be led by a newly energised and mobilised group of young people. Empowered, as managers would say.’


The incoherence of UUK’s attitude towards risk, by Michael Otsuka

‘USS’s current troubles, and UUK’s proposed solution, reflect an incoherent attitude toward risk on the part of our employers. Their responsibility for the difficulties we now face can be traced to a consultation in February-March 2017.’


Thoughts for UCL (and perhaps other) students about the pension strikes at university, by Andrea Sella

‘As you know the universities are currently enjoying something of a bonanza of money. Everywhere you look universities are building and repairing gleaming new buildings. It’s exciting and all of us love the swish of big glass door and the comfort of a well-padded seat in a lecture theatre. The thinking is that we have to compete on the world market and we need to invest, right? Where is the money coming from? Well a good chunk is coming from the government which passes to us the money that make up your fees – that you will repay later. In addition, universities have also been allowed to expand – student numbers are much much higher than they’ve ever been. That means we need more buildings. They cost money. So there’s something of a financial wheeze here – the fees are off balance sheet because they’re loans. Someone will have to pay out eventually and this is an increasingly, and rightly, becoming a contentious issue.’


Higher Education Matters: A Personal Reflection, by Ernesto Priego

‘What stands out to me is that the British universities’ strike does not seem to be part of mainstream society’s concerns, at least not as represented by its media coverage and the conversations one may have in public out and about. It looks like, at least in terms of the public discourse triggered by mainstream media coverage, the UK only has capacity for one or two important issues at a time.’


Pension strike: university staff are getting a ‘Die Quickly’ pension plan. It won’t work, by Ewan McGaughey

‘In a ‘Defined Benefit’ (DB) scheme, your employer guarantees you income from retirement till death, based on your contributions. It doesn’t matter how long you’ll live. This is mostly what the university pension, USS, is now. In a ‘Defined Contribution’ (DC) scheme, you get money on your retirement. But if you live longer than you expect, that could run out. If you live fewer years than you expect, your family could inherit what is left over. Universities UK has a new plan to make all pensions ‘DC’. We should call these what they are: ‘Die Quickly’ (DQ) pensions. You’re better off not living into old age, when money runs out. DC means DQ.’


The Pensions Strike: A Personal View, by Marianne O’Doherty

‘Over the past couple of weeks I have had a lot of conversations in corridors with staff in my institution. Very few of them have been explicitly about the strike. What people really want to talk about  is workload. That’s because my University, along with many, many other Higher Education Institutions in the UK, has a massive problem.’


Reclaiming Our University, from University of Aberdeen

Originating at the University of Aberdeen, the movement Reclaiming Our University has written a Manifesto to reclaim the academic world and reshape it in a more communal sense (in our case, the University of Aberdeen). [Free pdf download of the manifesto at the link above]


The lecturers strike offers universities a radical future, by James Smith

‘As Stefan Collini puts it, “from being depicted as some kind of anarchist militia bent upon disrupting society while sponging off it, students have come to be regarded as the front-line troops of market forces, storming the walls of those obstructive bastions of pre-commercial values, the universities.”’


Regimes and spaces of austerity: inside the British university, by Graeme Hayes

‘I am an academic working in a British university, and I am currently on strike. Alongside many of my colleagues – administrators, librarians, lecturers, graduate students – in the Universities and Colleges Union (UCU), I am taking industrial action in order to persuade Universities UK (UUK, the body which officially represents Britain’s universities) to commit to meaningful negotiations over the reforms they seek to impose on our pensions scheme (known as the Universities Superannuation Scheme, USS).’


A beginner’s guide to the USS dispute, by David Kernohan

‘The move from a hybrid DB scheme to a DC one (though technically the new scheme would remain a hybrid) moves the risk of volatility in investment performance from the employer to the employee. It significantly reduces the reliability of retirement income forecasts.’


Manifesto for the University of the Future

‘In our universities, market-based principles and metrics have been elevated to state-endorsed norms. The resulting dystopias and their symptoms are well described.  To complement growing resistance, an alternative vision is required. Here we propose to reclaim our universities based on a plan for The University of the Future. We present a manifesto in which we, the academics, the staff and the students reclaim our places in our universities.  We are the universities.’


The Means and Ends of Higher Education, by Clive Barnett

‘Week 4, and it looks like the combined stupidity of the UUK and lack of preparedness and care by individual University senior leaderships before the current UCU strike action started means that lots of University staff in the UK are still out on strike, not teaching students, not librarian-ing, not providing professional support to researchers, not, public-engaging, and not doing lots of other things they’d rather be doing.’


Why I’m a striking lecturer: I want to stop the slow death of public education, by Becky Gardiner

‘Like most strikes, this one is about much more than money. My favourite banner on the picket line reads “Against the slow cancellation of the future”, a phrase popularised by the late cultural theorist, Mark Fisher. In the grip of neoliberalism, we begin to believe that there is no alternative, Fisher told us.’


A public good: the pension dispute and the idea of he University, by Colin McFarlane

‘In a recent piece in The Guardian, Sally Hunt, Director of UCU, ended with a simple but fundamental injunction: we must the case anew for the University as a public good. To an outsider, it may seem odd that she would end a piece about a quite specific issue – the attempted transformation of pensions from a Direct Benefit to Direct Contribution scheme – by making a point about the University as an idea. But it is precisely this sort of connection that so many people are increasingly making and discussing.’

One comment

  1. Pingback: On Taking the Time to Perceive, Think, Write, and Share as Self-Preservation – Everything is Connected

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