Dundee University drops DC proposal

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The University of Dundee has agreed to withdraw its proposals to close the scheme for support staff after strike action. The university and unions will now work on alternative defined benefit proposals and bring these to the institution’s governing body in February before consulting again.
 
Several career average schemes in the university sector are being closed or restructured, despite a recent equity run and slight uptick in gilt yields that have helped many private sector schemes shore up their funding levels. In early summer, unions agreed with the scheme for London colleges, SAUL, to endorse a three-year DC period for new joiners. The nationwide Universities Superannuation Scheme meanwhile is the subject of a long-running disagreement that could see academics walk out in at least 37 universities after employers proposed slowing down the rate at which benefits are built up. 
 
The dispute in Dundee centred on the university’s proposal to close the current CARE plan for support staff and put a defined contribution scheme in its place, a change that would affect about 900 members, mainly women. This led to a strike in early October and had Scotland’s first minister call on all parties to get around the table and minimise disruption to education. 
 
   
With the DC proposal off the table until the next meeting of the institution’s governing body, the University Court, trade unions and the university will work to explore DB options. The current scheme has a deficit of £55m and has been considered high-risk and unaffordable by the employer. 
 

Unite: ‘Months have been wasted’ 

 
Unions Unison, Unite and the University and College Union have now suspended further strike action and will consult with members on the new DB offer when it has been thrashed out. 
 
Susan Robertson, Unite industrial officer, said: “Months have now been wasted by the University of Dundee which up until now consistently refused to explore the defined benefit pension options which we proposed. It has taken the strike action by our members, and the unanimous backing from Dundee city councillors to get them back round the table. We still have a long way to go as we may have won the first battle, but we have not won the war.” 

It is unusual in the private sector for DC proposals to be withdrawn fully, but not the first time it has happened in the university sector. Academics managed to dissuade USS employers in 2018 after widespread industrial action.
 
Professor Iain Gillespie, principal and vice-chancellor of the University, said: “We have agreed to engage fully in a discussion of all defined benefit options for future pension provision with immediate effect, and to commit to exploring all DB options constructively and comprehensively, with both the union and management sides openly bringing forward ideas for consideration.” 
  
He said the university is committed to making substantive progress, in order to bring to February 2022 Court an assessment of options for a future DB scheme. “It would then be for Court to decide on the options at that point,” he added. 
  
Provided there is support from Court, a further consultation with members of the scheme would then be held and technical work about the details of the scheme could continue beyond the February Court discussion. 
  
“I am encouraged by the return to discussions, which both sides have been keen to do, and sincerely hope we can reach a resolution on this matter,” Gillespie added.

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