Toope calls for “compromise” as strikes continue

Image credit: Jonathan Mortlock

In an email addressed to members of the university, Cambridge University Vice-Chancellor Professor Stephen Toope expressed his “absolute commitment” to ongoing strike talks, saying that the current situation “cannot go on as it has, understandably, led to anger from staff and anxiety from students."

Following renewed support for talks between staff union Universities and College Union (UCU) and Universities UK (UUK), Professor Toope voiced his continued support for the discussions and a healthy resolution to strike action, with the aim of finding a way through the dispute which “recognises the concerns of our staff, ensures the sustainability of the University, and maintains an excellent education for our students.”

Toope added that there was only a “limited” amount of influence from the university in these discussions, claiming that UUK has “limited room for manoeuvre” due to extremely low interest rates and the views of the Pensions Regulator, who decides on the scheme’s viability.

The Vice-Chancellor also called for an end to strike actions whilst discussions continue as a “pragmatic” solution to the issue at hand. Expressing understanding for the anxiety faced by students, Toope stressed that compromise needed to be made in order for a “long term, sustainable solution” to be agreed upon.

“Cambridge University has been actively working on options for some time and we have been discussing these with UUK,” the email continues. “We believe a sector-wide scheme has significant benefits. One option to maintain a sector-wide approach, at least in the short-term, would be an alternative that retains a Defined Benefit (DB) element, but combines it with a Defined Contribution (DC) component along the lines of our existing Cambridge University Assistants’ Contributory Pension Scheme (CPS).”

Toope’s email also mentions a DC scheme similar to that being considered at Royal Mail, a public service until 2011 when stocks were floated on London Stock Exchange, or a government-backed solution. Support for these options comes from the possibility of better benefits than the current scheme for staff, whilst remaining affordable for universities. However, both these options would require government action or new legislation.

Should no long-term solution be found, the Vice-Chancellor states that the University would be prepared to “consider” assuming the costs of additional contribution in the short-term. However, Toope stipulates that such action “would likely require trade-offs and cuts in other parts of the University.”


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