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Talks Resume Over University Pension Strike

A week after lecturers at British universities walked out in a row over pensions, both sides are coming back to the table for discussion.

  • By Joe McGrath

The trade union representing U.K. lecturers and academics, who are striking over planned changes to their pension, has agreed to meet with employers again on Tuesday.

On Friday, the University and College Union said it would resume talks with Universities U.K., the body of universities sponsoring the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), over plans to switch the defined benefit plan to a defined contribution model.

Academics had begun a month-long series of walkouts last week over plans to change the structure of the £60 billion ($84 billion) pension scheme due to concerns over the size of its deficit.

Universities U.K. estimated the deficit at £6.1 billion in a statement on Friday, whereas USS estimated the deficit at between £12.6 billion and £17.5 billion in its 2017 annual report. The UCU trade union disputes all of these estimates.

[II Deep Dive: Universities to Suffer Strikes Over Pension Concerns]

In a statement released on Friday, UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said that while the union was happy to meet with the employer body once more, she asked that the UUK consider revisiting the decision to change the structure of the pension scheme.

“Because this is so serious for students and for staff we will of course attend,” she said. “I am, however, very concerned that UUK has explicitly ruled out discussing the imposed changes that have caused the strikes.”

In a separate statement, Universities U.K. reiterated that it was “open to changing the scheme” back and reintroducing defined benefits, should economic conditions become more favorable.

“Universities UK has never refused to continue to try to find an affordable, mutually acceptable solution,” a spokesman said in the statement. “We would be willing to discuss a credible proposal that addresses the significant financial issues the scheme is facing.​ 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.”

The UCU general secretary said the trade union is also committed to serious negotiations with the aim at resolving the dispute, but added that the union was disappointed UUK had “ignored the wishes” of the U.K.’s universities minister, who had called for preconditions to be set prior to any further talks.

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