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President's weekly update

20 September 2018

The Joint Expert Panel (JEP) that has been reviewing assumptions for the 2017 valuation of the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) has just published its report which is to be welcomed.  The JEP consists of members proposed by Universities UK (UUK) representing employers and the Universities and Colleges Union (UCU) representing members and an independent chair. Its report of over 100 pages is the unanimous view of the JEP and recommends possible ways of reducing both the deficit in the pension fund and the cost of future benefit provision. 

In summary, the report suggests that a combination of employers taking on greater risk and the trustee updating the valuation assumption would mean that the future USS deficit could fall from £7.5 billion to £4 billion. The report will now be considered by UUK and UCU and if agreement can be reached, proposals would be submitted to the USS trustee via the Joint Negotiating Committee.  If proposals were accepted by the Trustee, the Pension Regulator and the 350 employers which are part of the scheme, these  would reduce the amount of extra payments that would be required by employers and employees to make the scheme viable. The JEP notes that any such changes would need to be consistent with the statutory and regulatory duties of the USS trustee and the Pension Regulator. We are all hopeful of finding a resolution to this very difficult issue but need to await responses from the major bodies involved.  In the meantime, a consultation continues on proposed changes to USS contribution rates - this consultation is taking place at the same time as the work being done by the Joint Expert Panel and is open until Friday, 2 November.  You can read more at: cost sharing.

The other major pension scheme for our staff, The University of Manchester Superannuation Scheme (UMSS), has just completed consultation with members and those eligible to join on proposed changes to the scheme and the UMSS trustee will shortly consider responses.   Staff in most post-92 universities are members of the public teachers’ pension scheme which is also undergoing a valuation and consideration of costs.

The Migration Advisory Committee report on international students has just been released.  Many of us had been hoping for some relaxation of post study visa regulations for international students, but while the report was very clear on the great benefit of international students to the UK, it recommended only minor changes, though they said that they would keep the position under review.

I gave a welcome speech to a packed audience of new international students in University Place. The campus is now buzzing with new students and the many student volunteers all wearing purple. I was given a very nice purple woolly hat embroidered with #HelloUoM. I’ve also been wearing my ‘Ask Me’ badge but haven’t been stopped yet.

At the Board Finance Committee meeting we reviewed the financial accounts for the University for the year-end which still need to be signed off by our external auditors.  We also considered progress with our Campus Masterplan and discussed plans for the new Paterson Building at The Christie site and ways in which we can access external funding for this development.  Several of us are currently working on a major bid for funds. 

At a meeting of the Greater Manchester Local Enterprise Partnership (GMLEP) meeting we considered the internationalisation strategy for GM which closely aligns with our own. The Mayor of GM, Andy Burnham is currently on a high level visit to China accompanied by two of our staff. The GM LEP meeting was held at Manchester Metropolitan University and was followed by a dinner hosted by their chair and Deputy Vice-Chancellor, where we heard about their strengths in creative (and their new School of Digital Art), ‘industry 4.0’ including digital, health, particularly around older people, business engagement and degree apprenticeships.

It was good to hear that we had nearly 2,000 applications for our Presidential Fellows across the University and we made 45 offers and 42 appointments. These are all early career academics who come from all over the world. Many will be joining in the next few weeks. We are soon launching a second phase of recruitment.

Senior staff and I reviewed plans for Our Future, the major initiative that has just been launched inviting all staff to participate in discussions about the future of our University.  Look out for meetings, discussion groups and opportunities to contribute.

I spoke at two events to mark the forthcoming retirement of Will Spinks, Registrar, Secretary and Chief Operating Officer, at the end of September. Will has been with us for over seven years and has done a fantastic job. He will stay on part-time to lead on several specific projects.

Senior staff from GCHQ visited the University to discuss collaborations across a wide range of disciplines in teaching and research as a result of the move of a significant number of GCHQ staff to Manchester.

I gave a speech at the opening of the second cohort of our Inspiring Leaders Programme, where I talked about how we want to better develop and support leaders across the University. We also have a number of other leadership programmes and online courses which you can find at Staff Learning and Development. We held an induction programme for new members of our Board of Governors. I talked about the UK higher education sector in general and on how the University is doing, our plans, challenges and the ‘Our Future’ exercise.

Next week I will be travelling to China visiting Wuhan, Shanghai and Beijing so I won’t send a message but will let you know about the trip in my message the week after.

Nancy Rothwell, President and Vice-Chancellor