Oxford University reverses support for pension cuts

Oxford University has reversed its support for the pension cuts responsible for sparking strikes at 64 universities across the UK.

In a significant U-turn, vice-chancellor Louise Richardson wrote to colleagues saying she would recommend the university's approach change due to "the depth of feeling of so many colleagues" on the matter.

University lecturers across the UK have complained the cuts, which are due to changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) proposed by Universities UK (UUK), will cost them £10,000 a year.

As a result, members of the University and College Union (UCU) are part way through 14 days of walkouts, taking place over four weeks, in protest at the changes.

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Prof Richardson's email comes after Oxford University suspended a debate on the issue on Tuesday, forcing academics to move outside the building where a resolution for the university to reverse its stance stood at 442 votes to two.

In her email to colleagues, Prof Richardson wrote: "In light of the depth of feeling of so many colleagues we will convene a special meeting of Council today at noon and will be recommending that Council reverse its response to the UUK survey in line with Congregation's resolution.

"I also hope that we will be able to work together to help bridge the divide between UUK and UCU in the ongoing negotiations.

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"The future of our pensions is a shared interest for so many members of this university that we must try to find common ground.

"In the coming days we will look for ways to improve our engagement with staff so that all members of our community are able to speak and be heard on this very important issue."

Last week, Cambridge University's vice-chancellor Professor Stephen Toope showed signs of frustrations at the lack of progress on the strikes - threatening that the institution may have to consider the possibility of its own pension scheme "if all else fails".

The row between UCU and UUK centres on proposals that would change the pension scheme from "defined benefit", which gives workers a guaranteed income in their retirement, to "defined contribution", in which pensions are subject to fluctuations in the stock market.