Universities UK letter

The text below is of a letter sent by the Changing University Cultures collective to Universities UK on March 19th 2018, withdrawing from our current working relationship with them due to their role in the USS pensions dispute.

For the attention of: Alistair Jarvis and Professor Dame Janet Beer

We write as the Changing University Cultures collective – we have been working closely with Universities UK over the past couple of years on promoting equality and diversity in higher education, and tackling sexual harassment and violence, through cultural change. We were recently commissioned to produce a set of sector-wide guidelines on creating cultural change in universities, to be launched at a national conference this November. Unfortunately, in light of the ongoing USS pensions dispute, we are writing to withdraw from this commission and our current association with Universities UK.

Pensions are a key equalities issue. A recent paper by experts at Sheffield highlighted that while women have a smaller pension than men in any system (and BAME women are even more adversely affected), this is is exacerbated in defined contribution schemes due to differences in how men and women engage with financial information and risk. DC schemes also fail to offer the maternity coverage that DB schemes do. Universities UK cannot claim to be working towards equality and diversity in the sector while pursuing pension reforms which are antithetical to that agenda, and we cannot in good faith work with Universities UK on equality and diversity issues under these conditions.

On the bigger issue of institutional culture, it is clear that the sector is in disarray and that this has happened under the influence of Universities UK. The proposed reforms to the USS pension scheme could not be a clearer statement of current sectoral values, based on an imaginary deficit and designed to facilitate capital investment projects at the expense of staff security and working conditions (defined as ‘inessential costs’). The complete disregard for staff and students’ welfare has become painfully clear during the course of this dispute. While some Vice-Chancellors have come through for their staff and students in important ways, others have either remained silent or taken punitive actions against strikers and student occupations.

This is a crisis of culture and relationship which has been building for years, and which we do not intend to turn our backs on. However, while we are happy to work with individual Vice-Chancellors, either to continue building bridges or to assess and begin to repair the damage, we cannot do this under the auspices of Universities UK until it is willing to address its own culture and complicity. Institutional culture work cannot be window dressing for the systematic devaluation and precaritisation of staff and students. It must be grounded in a critique of the marketisation of universities and what that does to the values that staff and students hold dear. It is with regret, therefore, that we withdraw from our current association with Universities UK.

Yours sincerely,
The Changing University Cultures Collective

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