Universities will be hit with industrial action later this year if they do not make a decent pay offer to staff and secure pensions for members of the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), the University and College Union (UCU) warned today (Friday).

Earlier this month the union wrote to 69 institutions warning that if they fail to defend USS pensions then the union would prepare for an industrial action ballot in September. The union’s higher education committee (HEC) met today and set out a timetable for that ballot on USS pensions and also for a pay ballot to run at the same time.

The ballots will run from Monday 9 September to Wednesday 30 October and the union’s HEC will meet to consider the results on Friday 1 November. The ballots will be disaggregated so each institution will be polled separately. Last year, university campuses were brought to a standstill by unprecedented levels of strike action.

The union said universities had done nothing to address the declining value of its members’ pay, which has fallen in real-terms by 21% in the last decade. UCU members in around 140 universities will be balloted over pay. Those institutions include the 69 where members will also being balloted USS pensions.

The USS pension scheme has been hit by a series of high-profile scandals in recent weeks after a former trustee spoke out saying her efforts to establish the level of the scheme’s deficit had been obstructed. That claim is now being looked at by the Pensions Regulator. Instead of dealing with the claims, USS has launched a probe into the whistleblower.

The universities’ representatives, Universities UK (UUK), has said it is confident that the USS trustee board is “conducting business in line with its fiduciary responsibilities” and that expressing no confidence in the USS board or executive “would be an irresponsible move”.

Despite the inaction from both USS and UUK, the chair of the work and pensions select committee Frank Field has written to the chief executive of the Pensions Regulator asking a series of questions about the whistleblower’s complaint.

UCU head of higher education Paul Bridge said: ‘Pay has been held down for too long and USS members are running out of patience. Every day seems to bring some new damning revelation about USS. Their response has been wholly inadequate, as has that of Universities UK. If universities are not prepared to work with us on pay and pensions, then they will face serious disruption later this year.’

* List of institutions UCU wrote to over USS:

  1. University of Aberdeen
  2. Aberystwyth University
  3. Aston University
  4. Bangor University
  5. University of Bath
  6. Queen's University of Belfast
  7. Birkbeck, University of London
  8. University of Birmingham
  9. University of Bradford
  10. University of Bristol
  11. Brunel University, London
  12. University of Cambridge
  13. Cardiff University
  14. City, University of London
  15. Courtauld Institute of Art
  16. Cranfield University
  17. University of Dundee
  18. University of Durham
  19. University of East Anglia
  20. University of Edinburgh
  21. University of Essex
  22. University of Exeter
  23. University of Glasgow
  24. Goldsmiths University, London
  25. Heriot-Watt University
  26. University of Hull
  27. Imperial College
  28. Institute of Development Studies
  29. University of Keele
  30. University of Kent
  31. King's College London
  32. University of Lancaster
  33. University of Leeds
  34. University of Leicester
  35. Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine
  36. University of Liverpool
  37. London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
  38. London School of Economics and Political Science
  39. Loughborough University
  40. University of Manchester
  41. Newcastle University
  42. University of Nottingham
  43. Open University
  44. University of Oxford
  45. Queen Mary University of London
  46. University of Reading
  47. Royal Holloway, University of London
  48. Royal Veterinary College
  49. Ruskin College
  50. School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS)
  51. University of Salford
  52. Scottish Association for Marine Science
  53. University of London (Institutes and activities)
  54. University of Sheffield
  55. University of Southampton
  56. University of St Andrews
  57. St George's University of London
  58. University of Stirling
  59. University of Strathclyde
  60. University of Surrey
  61. University of Sussex
  62. Swansea University
  63. University of Wales Trinity St David's
  64. University of Ulster
  65. University of Suffolk
  66. The School of Pharmacy and IOE, University College London
  67. University of Wales
  68. University of Warwick
  69. University of York

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