Latest updates from Jo Grady

Dec 9th, 2020 | By | Category: News


29 June 2021

Dear Colleague

Over twenty thousand of you have now used our USS modeller to see how proposed changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) will affect you personally. If you haven’t yet used the tool, please do so today: just input your date of birth and salary details. Please also complete the survey at the end which will help inform our negotiations with employers and USS.

The employers’ plans would affect everyone who is currently in or planning to join USS, and they would particularly impact staff nearer the beginning of their careers – because benefits for past service will not change, whereas benefits for future service will. Additionally if more early career university staff subsequently leave or don’t join USS then there is a danger the scheme will become financially insecure.

I urge everyone to use the tool but I particularly urge those of you who are early career staff.

If you have further questions about USS and about our proposals for reforming the scheme and achieving a fair outcome for staff, please consult our recently updated FAQs.

Best wishes

Jo Grady
UCU general secretary


22 June 2021

Dear colleague

As many members will know, UCU’s annual Congress recently took place over three days from 29 May to 2 June. Congress is where members decide the union’s policy and how to proceed on the many workplace and political issues that face us as staff who work in education. UCU branches submit motions to Congress and also elect or nominate delegates to speak and vote on motions on your behalf.

This year’s Congress took some important decisions about the campaigns which it wants the union to prioritise over the next year. Most importantly, it decided to build towards UK-wide industrial action over USS pensions and over pay, equality, job security and workload.

To make those campaigns successful there will need to be further discussion and action within the wider membership. That is where you come in.

Over the next two weeks, your branch should be holding a meeting to discuss the outcomes from Congress and get your input as to how you want to conduct the campaigns which Congress delegates have voted for on your behalf.

You can find more information about this process and the key decisions relating to your sector in this email. which was sent to all branches last week.

I know this is a busy time of year, but when the notification comes out from your branch, please do your best to attend or feed in to your branch in whatever way you can – and do contact your branch if you’ve not yet had an email.

Finally, don’t forget that there are already a huge number of critical campaigns taking place across the union: on health and safety, redundancies, casualisation, and a range of other issues. You can find out more about what’s happening and how to support these disputes on our website.

Jo Grady
UCU general secretary


19 May 2021

Dear colleague

You can now find a Q&A on the current USS situation on our website.

The Q&A summarises my recent emails (which you can also find on the website) and covers questions which members have raised in response to them and at branch meetings which I’ve attended in the past few weeks. The Q&A will be updated regularly in response to new developments so please bookmark it and keep checking back.

First Actuarial modeller – coming soon

Next week UCU will launch a modelling tool developed by our actuarial advisers, First Actuarial. The tool will show anyone who uses it the impact of the cuts and changes to USS benefits that have been proposed by Universities UK (UUK).

While employers have been taking part in UUK’s consultation on its proposals since April, the quality of the information which they have given staff about the proposals has generally been very low. This tool will help to correct that information deficit. The tool will be open to non members as well as members and it will be accompanied by a short survey to gauge your views about the UUK proposals. The link will be emailed to you as soon as the tool launches so please look out for it and make use of it.

Democratic decision making and sector conference

Finally, members will be taking important decisions about the union’s position regarding USS at the higher education sector conference on 2 June.

Motions and amendments submitted to the conference have now been published. You can find the motions relating to industrial action over pay and working conditions and USS at p.53 onwards of this report.

Jo Grady
UCU general secretary



Dear colleague

I’m writing to update you about a really important current initiative which I’d love to see a lot of UCU members taking part in.

Organizing for Power

Last autumn 400 UCU members and over 20 staff took part in ‘Strike School’ – part of the ‘Organising for Power’ series of international online training courses run by the trade unionist and author Jane McAlevey and the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation.

The next instalment of the series, entitled ‘Workers Rising Everywhere’, has just been announced. It will take place on Tuesdays from 5-7pm, starting on 18 May and finishing on 22 June.

You can access our registration form here.

I strongly encourage any member with an interest in getting more active in UCU to take part. Registration is on a group rather than an individual basis, so please contact your branch if you are interested in getting involved but don’t have anyone to take the course with. Participation is free and costs for members with caring responsibilities will be reimbursed.

To find out more about the underlying philosophy of this course and why it matters, read this interview with Jane McAlevey. You can also watch the recording of the live taster event which Jane held for, and with, UCU members last September.

If you have any further questions about the course please email here: 

Best wishes,

Jo Grady
UCU general secretary



Dear colleague

Yesterday afternoon Universities UK (UUK) launched a consultation of employers on how to respond to the contribution rates which the USS Trustee is demanding for the 2020 valuation. The consultation closes on 24 May. You can find the consultation documents here and our press release with my response here.

Details of the UUK proposal

UUK is trying to rally employers around a proposal that involves serious cuts to benefits. The benefits which members have already accrued are protected but for future service, UUK is proposing to:

  • lower the salary threshold where defined benefit (DB) accrual stops from £59,883.65 to £40,000
  • reduce accrual (and therefore the size of payments in retirement) from 1/75 to 1/85.
  • impose a CPI indexation cap of 2.5% (removing the protection of benefits against any inflation above that level)
  • keep the contribution rate as it is now (9.6% for members, 21.1% for employers).

You will remember the first offer made by employers via ACAS midway through the 2018 industrial action – this new proposal is very similar. In fact, it is even worse, because it involves a lower threshold for members to stop accruing defined benefits and a higher price in terms of contributions.

The consultation also contains proposals for addressing the high numbers of staff opting out of the scheme. The focus is on low-cost, low-quality defined contribution (DC) options which would erode retirement security for low paid staff and further undermine the scheme as a whole.

It is also worth noting that UUK is asking employers whether they would prefer to close the DB element of the scheme outright, as they proposed to do in 2017-18. At this stage we cannot rule anything out.

UCU members, via branches, took action to prevent the end of DB and also overwhelmingly rejected the 2018 ACAS offer. We now need to push for a radically improved offer from employers and my view is that we need to be ready to escalate to industrial action if necessary.

This is shaping up to be our third dispute over USS since 2018 and I know that will feel exhausting, especially after the year the sector has had – but we can win if we come together and start building our campaign now. This email outlines some small initial steps you can take as a branch to do that.

Meeting for branch officers and further support

There will be a meeting for branch officers on 26 April from 1pm-2pm to discuss our next steps. Keep the date in your diaries and watch this space for details of how to join.

If you need to discuss anything USS-related before then please email me using this form and someone from my office will get in touch.

Can we continue to push USS to change their valuation?

The UUK proposal will only be feasible if employers are able to convince USS to soften the demands which it is making for this valuation in terms of contribution rates and employer covenant support. Even if employers endorse UUK’s proposal, USS may still veto it and insist that employers come back with something worse.

We agree with employers that the only solution to this valuation involves USS revisiting its underlying assumptions and adopting a more reasonable approach. But the UUK proposal is not an effective way to force USS to do that because it is not ambitious enough and it is not backed up by credible threats or leverage. Employers need to go further.

Now is the time to meet with your employer about the consultation and also to engage staff in your institution (whether they are UCU members or not) on what is happening.

In my view we need to respond to this consultation by asking every employer:

  • whether they will provide more covenant support on top of what UUK is suggesting
  • whether they will pay more into the scheme than the current rate
  • whether they are willing to explore possible routes for legal action against USS and/or The Pensions Regulator (TPR)
  • what political lobbying they have undertaken to put indirect pressure on USS and TPR and make the case for USS as a sustainable, open defined benefit scheme.

We have been making our case in meetings with TPR, the DWP and other parties and we have also been exploring our options for legal action, but UUK has been more focused on formulating the fundamentally inadequate non-solution which they published yesterday. We need employers to start firing on all cylinders and working together with us in the areas I have outlined.

Advice from First Actuarial

Our actuarial advisers, First Actuarial, will model the implications of UUK’s proposal for members and produce analysis of it that can inform our campaigning and get the message to all university staff about how damaging the proposed cuts will be.

First Actuarial have also produced two technical notes on aspects of the valuation:

  • note 1 covers funding and prudence
  • note 2 covers security of accrued benefits.

They will also be working on stochastic modelling of the scheme’s prospects over the next 20-30 years which will be designed to influence the Trustee’s final decisions about the valuation.

I will be in touch soon with more information and opportunities for you to feed back what’s happening in your branches. In the meantime please email me here if you have any questions.

Best wishes,

Jo Grady
UCU general secretary



Covid crisis: Jo Grady speaks out on BBC Question Time

Our general secretary Jo Grady appeared on BBC Question Time last night and answered questions on the PPE shortage, the idea of summer schools for student catch-up, the idea of vaccination passports, and the lack of government support for workers throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. Catch up on the highlights here.

Meanwhile commenting on this week’s government announcement on the easing of lockdown restrictions, UCU has responded by insisting that any wider reopening of college and university campuses from 8 March is irresponsible and risks undoing the country’s hard work to get Covid-19 rates down. Full statement here and all our guidance and information on the pandemic is here.



Dear colleague,

You have until 5pm next Wednesday 17 February to give us your thoughts about industrial action by completing our survey. We’ve had a great overall response so far but the more responses we get, the better informed your democratic representatives will be when they make decisions about future disputes.

Please remember, it is just as important for members who haven’t previously taken industrial action to give their views as it is for members who have.

You have received your unique link to complete the survey by email. If you’ve checked your inbox and your spam folder and still can’t find it, don’t worry – the link will be sent to you again on Monday. The sender will be ‘’.

Online consultation on the employers’ 2020-21 final offer

You have also received a separate email earlier this week with a link to vote in an online consultation on the final offer from employers in our sector-wide negotiations for 2020-21.

You are being advised to reject the offer as it represents a real-terms pay cut and very little in the way of meaningful commitments on workload, equality, and job security.

Please vote by 12 noon on Tuesday 23 February, and check your spam folder if you haven’t yet received your link. The email subject line will be ‘UCU consultative ballot on UCEA final offer 2020/21’ and the sender will be ‘’.

Next steps

After the industrial action survey and the online consultation have both closed, your elected representatives on UCU’s higher education committee (HEC) will meet on Friday 26 February to consider the results of both exercises and discuss our next steps as a union, including a potential ballot for industrial action. You will be informed about any decisions taken as soon as possible after that meeting.

Jo Grady
UCU general secretary



Dear colleague

I am writing to all members about important ballots and surveys currently underway or forthcoming in your union.

Survey on industrial action

The higher education (HE) industrial action survey which launched last Monday is a top priority. The representatives who make decisions about industrial action on your behalf need to know about your priorities, your views about past industrial action, and your strategic thinking about future disputes.

Please take a few minutes to find the email with your personalised link and complete the survey before it closes on Wednesday 17 February. If you can’t find the email in your inbox or your spam folder, don’t worry – you will be sent the link again tomorrow (Tuesday 2 February).

Thanks to members who reported issues with the launch of the survey. The company administering the survey for UCU, Civica, has addressed those problems and the survey should be fully functional. If you have already completed the survey, you do not need to complete it again. We welcome feedback on the survey and have created an in-house email address for you to contact if you have anything to say that isn’t covered by the survey questions.

Separately from this survey, there will soon be an online consultation of members on the offer made by HE employers in this year’s national negotiations. You will need to fill in the survey AND vote in the consultation so your representatives can make informed decisions about what to do next.

Annual UCU elections

Ballot papers have been posted to members for the annual election of UCU’s future president and seats on the national executive committee (NEC). 

The NEC, chaired by the president, is one of the union’s most important elected decision-making bodies. As general secretary I report and give advice to the NEC and its sub-committees, but they make important decisions on a range of matters: from our Covid-19 health and safety policies to our strategy for industrial action including the timing and amount of action, strike pay, and whether to consult members on offers from employers.

These elections are your annual opportunity to determine who sits on that committee and makes decisions in your name. The higher the turnout, the stronger the democratic mandate NEC members will have to represent you with.

For full details of the elections, click here. You can find details of the NEC’s current members and minutes of previous NEC meetings here. Finally, since I became general secretary I have started the practice of publishing my regular reports to the NEC and reports to other committees on the UCU website here.

Task group survey

The first of the member-led task groups pledged in my election manifesto, on sexual violence, is gathering evidence from branches and members to inform the union’s work in this area. You can expect to receive an invitation to submit evidence very soon and I strongly encourage you to take the time to respond.

You can find more information about the work of the task group here.

As always, please drop me an email if you have a question about the task group or anything else.

Jo Grady
UCU general secretary



Dear colleague,

As you know, across the UK the rates of Covid-19 are exceptionally high. The return to in-person learning has been delayed, with universities being instructed to move all but essential activities online throughout January and February. Some universities have taken matters into their own hands and announced that they intend to keep activities online for significantly longer.

After months of campaigning for this, we believe this is an important step in the right direction to protect staff. However, with the pandemic currently worse than ever and hospitals on the brink of being overwhelmed, this period should be extended to cover the remainder of the academic year, and we will continue to lobby and campaign as hard for this as we have since we first called for the move online in August. I have continued to meet with education ministers over the Christmas and New Year period and make the case for taking these precautions to prioritise education and wellbeing – particularly while the vaccine is being rolled out.

Despite the UK government’s announcements, there have been a few disturbing reports from UCU branches that some employers are continuing to require staff to do work on-site that we believe could be done remotely. We expect all employers to review risk assessments in place as a result of recent developments, including the emergence of the new variant of the virus. If you are worried this has not happened for your workplace, please contact your local branch ASAP.

We have also updated our existing guidance regarding your individual rights to health and safety at work, and in particular your right not to receive any detriment if you refuse to attend your workplace under Sections 44 and 100 of the Employment Rights Act 1996.

You can find the updated guidance here.

In normal times the most effective way to protect the rights of individual union members to work in a healthy and safe environment is through the collective strength of union representation and through direct engagement with employers and the government. That is how UCU has already won significant concessions since the pandemic started in all our sectors and nations – not least of all in higher education, where we have conducted successful ballots for industrial action on Covid-19 health and safety, and will keep doing this for as long as the pandemic lasts.

However, we are not living through normal times. Members do have individual rights in law as well as collective ones, and trade unions can lawfully give their members information about these. Please read this guidance for assistance in doing this.  
Jo Grady
UCU general secretary


Dear colleagues 

Thank you all again for your continued work and support for members and each other in this difficult year.  

There has been promising news of vaccines to support a return to normal in the future. However, there is still no confirmed timetable for a vaccine roll out and I do not have confidence that the UK Government’s current advice prioritises safety, so in the meantime we need to air on the side of caution when it comes to UCU working arrangements.

In light of the ongoing rates of infection and the experience of the last “re-opening”, We are therefore now planning on the basis that our general return to UCU offices will not commence until early April. While we will continue to open Carlow Street on a limited basis for safe access and critical functions, we cannot ensure safe travel to our offices that rely heavily on public transport so want to continue to minimise this risk where possible. 

General return will only be on a safe and incremental basis agreed with staff collectively through Unite and individually according to personal circumstances.   

I know that for many of you, this continues to be a very stressful and challenging period. If you are feeling the strain, help and support is available – you can find a range of support services for staff which you can access via the intranet. I would also reinforce what I have said throughout this year about workload and lockdown. That we as a union do not expect everyone to be working as normal. This has not been a remotely normal year and we are not asking any of you to operate in a way that some of the worst employers in further and higher education behave like.

I hope that this gives you some reassurances over the potential timetable for return, but please do keep in touch with your line manager or myself if there are further questions.

Best wishes



Comments are closed.