Felicity Callard Profile picture
Apr 27, 2018 15 tweets 9 min read Twitter logo Read on Twitter
It's Friday. This is a thread about holidays, & mini-breaks.
And pensions & USS.
#ofcourse #ussstrike

And in particular about UUK's commitment to ensuring that phrase "contribution holiday" cannot be pinned on to them. So it's a thread about a discursive battle.
I'm indebted here to on-going work by @deepa_driver @ProfKurtMills @acupunctureUSS on contribution holidays (& contribution 'mini-breaks' [thanks @acupunctureUSS]).

I'm going to focus here just on the language used rather than the underpayments/holidays/reductions themselves.
As most of us know, asides from UUK's famous, multiple tweet responses of "happy to meet tomorrow" made on 5 March, UUK communicated very little via Twitter during #USSstrike with those on strike.
Oh no, I've got the genealogy of contribution "mini-break" wrong. My origin story is flawed! So sorry @NJSHardy & @gib_arch (see: ) And note @acupunctureUSS's "contribution chillaxation" screen shot of tweet thread linked to
UUK did (outside it's "happy to meet" splurge) make 2 exceptions that I saw to its general policy not to respond to tweets from individuals. Both exceptions (on 26 Feb & 26 March) were to deny that employers had taken a "contribution holiday" in late 1990s twitter.com/search?l=&q=ho… Feb 26/27 exchange linked to in the tweetMarch 26 exchange linked to in the tweet
These 2 tweets (separated by a month) suggest that the "contributions holiday" is a key issue for UUK & one around which it is committed to shifting the discourse. We should take seriously how seriously UUK takes this issue: it broke its Twitter silence for it on 2 occasions.
The almost identical phrasing of these 2 tweets – & repetition of adjective "substantial" – is interesting.

Particularly in light of significant discursive struggle around adjective "comparable" (which appears twice in UUK-drafted 23 March proposal universitiesuk.ac.uk/news/Pages/Joi…)
The adjective "comparable" was subject to deep epistemic & ontological contestation [search "broadly comparable] eg

Also note the contest over the Janet Beer (UUK Pres) phrase "a solution which includes an *element* of DB pension" Picture of the Mona Lisa, and hand-done bad drawing of a face (to signal 'broadly comparable')
Both "comparable" & "substantial" raise questions of value as well as of measurement. Comparable connotes something *fit* to be compared. Substantial implies sturdy and solid.

There's a lot at stake in both these adjectives. (This has turned into a bit of a #histsci #STS thread)
And so I can't help but be interested that UUK, in its latest discussion of "contribution holiday" (see USS Valuation – FAQs for USS members employerspensionsforum.co.uk/sites/default/…, April 2018) DOESN'T repeat its previous (Twitter) language of "substantial contribution"
Quite a lot happened yesterday with USS JNC (quick summary tweet: ), which meant I was distracted before I finished my #contributionsminibreak thread
I had been thinking about how "comparable" & "substantial" (both adjectives that have been used by UUK in relation to pensions) have embedded within them complex questions of judgement & value. Which rendered UUK's use of them open to profound ontological & political dispute
Cf. recent UUK doc, "USS Valuation – FAQs for USS members" employerspensionsforum.co.uk/sites/default/…. This doesn't use the adjective comparable at all, & uses "substantial" only once (in relation to a "substantially higher" cost (37.4% versus 26%) of building up future benefits section on p.3 of doc linked to describing the
To return to contributions holidays specifically, the UUK Twitter language of "substantial contribution" no longer appears. Instead, we have: "USS employers have never paid less than the rate that was required by the Trustee at that particular time ..." employerspensionsforum.co.uk/sites/default/… Section Q7 of document linked to in tweet -- on 'What is a contribution holiday ...?'
The phrase "never paid less than the rate that was required" functions as an attempt to close down ontological & political dispute (Is the substantial actually substantial?) – by installing an indisputable standard imposed by 3rd party to which UUK has adhered ("never paid less")

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More from @felicitycallard

Oct 2, 2018
Given importance of HE sector "there may be a case for future governments to consider alternative options" (incl "state-backed guarantee" or "measures enabling more risk-taking"). Powerful piece from @JMariathasan on #USS DB debate post-#JEP ipe.com/analysis/blogs… #USSstrike 1/
Article argues that central problem lies in regulatory changes that transformed management of a DB pension scheme into "a risk management problem, not an investment one" 2/
Read 4 tweets
Sep 22, 2018
Thank you to @EricRoyalLybeck & all the other organisers in Exeter, as well as @ExeterUCU: Volunteer University Revisited was such a magical day. Gathering all of our energies for the months & years to come #YesVolUniCan 1/
Particularly magical to meet some people in the flesh for the first time -- incl. @thetroutpouts @lizmorrish @TheGraceK @sstroschein2 Mike Finn, Alison Wood, @ProfAlastair @ms_rhian @NoisyBits 2/
So many ideas for ways forward. So many kinds of expertise being bought to bear on what now, how, for universities as a community. Also so many testifying to violence, intimidation, threats to academic freedom – & of particular subjects being of course more exposed 3/3
Read 4 tweets
Sep 16, 2018
There's a bonanza of new FOI responses that give us a much better sense of the range of university responses to #UUK #USS consultations from Oct 2016 and Feb/March 2017. Picking through them it's fascinating to see which universities challenged the direction of travel 1/
e.g. Aberdeen: "Aon ... & UCU have indicated that it may be advantageous to consider other models. We are interested in the Trustees views as to whether there are alternative models that could result in a more considered outcome" whatdotheyknow.com/request/508696… cc @aberdeen_ucu 2/
e.g. LSE: "We note that the latest benefit changes were implemented less than 12 months ago. The School’s view is that it is too soon for further changes to be made." whatdotheyknow.com/request/509128… 3/
Read 6 tweets
Sep 16, 2018
So with the publication of the #JEP, the issue of UUK consultations with employer institutions is back big time. Both the famous Sept 2017 survey – and now the possibility, if JEP recommendations are taken up, of UUK reassessing employers' appetite for risk.

I'm worried. 1/
#JEP has emphasised the problems with how UUK framed the questions. What's really obvious if you look back Sept survey is that all the focus is on risk and on a *reduction to benefits*. And NOT on the potential to increase contributions. Or on amending the technical provisions 2/
You can see the structure of the questions here, in Nottingham's response (one of the institutions that wanted less risk): whatdotheyknow.com/request/440685… 3/
Read 18 tweets
Sep 15, 2018
2. #JEP has a lot to say about Test 1. Its sentence 'The view of the Panel is that Test 1 is not well understood outside of USS' is ... well ... certainly marvellously diplomatic.

Cf. and 6/
3. #JEP's discussion of #USS's & #UUK's 'differing perspectives' on the shift from Sept to Nov valuation shows just how murky the deliberations that resulted in this shift still are.

This remains a big issue, given #JEP proposal to reassess employers' atttude to risk (p. 45) 7/ Extract from p. 45 of JEP report
4. #JEP agrees w many of us that UUK's 'framing' of questions around risk in their consultations has serious consequences.

How can we be confident that any future assessment of employers' risk appetite by UUK shows an improvement in their use of social scientific methods? 🧐 8/
Read 13 tweets
Sep 15, 2018
After a few weeks away from Twitter, I'm back to think – alongside many others – about content & rhetoric of the #JEP.

And abt what we at @USSbriefs have been doing all summer w @OpenUPP2018 to encourage deliberations over #USS valuation to take place in public #USSstrike 1/
Many (incl. @NJSHardy @gailfdavies @DrJoGrady @etymologic @MikeOtsuka) have already provided cogent analyses of the #JEP report & its implications. So here I'll just going to pick out some of what has struck me most forcefully on a first read. #USSstrike 2/
1. There's a judicious use of rhetoric – particularly around 'confidence', '(mis)understanding' & 'communication'. This cleaves closely to that used by #UUK & Bill Galvin – whether that is deliberately so as to increase likelihood of acceptance by those parties, you can decide 3/
Read 5 tweets

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