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Message sent to staff 25 November 2019

Dear colleagues,

Today marks the start of eight days of industrial action at Cambridge over pay and pensions. This will be a difficult time for many at the University, including those members of staff who have chosen to strike, and students who are facing disruption to their education. I am also conscious that these strikes are happening in the midst of a sustained period of national uncertainty that has affected many in the University and Colleges.

It is important that all of those involved in this dispute do what they can to bring it to a constructive resolution. The University has a role to play in that process, and I want to reiterate the commitments I made last year to speaking out on your behalf during national negotiations, while here in Cambridge we continue to address issues of pay and working conditions.

The University has heard the deep concern at last year’s proposals to change the USS pension scheme: we have learned from what you told us, and the strength of feeling that you made apparent. I also understand the stress and uncertainty faced by many at pay rises that struggle to keep pace with inflation.

Resolving these issues is not straightforward, partly because of the complexities of collective negotiation. Cambridge is one of many universities represented nationally by UUK on pensions, and by the Universities & Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) on pay. But we will continue to use the influence we have to make your concerns heard.

On USS, we have made clear our belief that serious interrogation of the valuation methodology – the assumptions used to calculate whether the scheme is in surplus or deficit, and thus the amount that both employers and staff must pay in – is critical to preserving current USS benefits. Much will hinge on the forthcoming report of the Joint Expert Panel, which is looking at this issue and the long-term sustainability of the scheme. Both sets of negotiators, as well as the USS Trustee, must ultimately work in partnership, and in full transparency, to develop a shared approach to valuation and scheme governance. This will almost certainly require compromise from both employers and UCU.

On pay, as Professor Eilís Ferran, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Institutional and International Relations, said recently in a message to staff, the University is contributing an additional £500,000 to academic promotions, with significant increases planned for 2019/20 and 2020/21. We have also increased the salaries of the lowest paid colleagues, and are working to improve reward schemes for academic-related and research staff. Working with UCU, we are moving away from fixed-term to open-ended contracts where appropriate.

The University will keep you updated on this work, and, of course, on any developments at a national level. In the meantime, we have developed a new industrial action website with guidance and FAQs for staff and students. You can access this using the following link:

Yours sincerely,


Professor Stephen J Toope



30 November 2019