All entries for February 2018
February 20, 2018
A comment on https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/news/university-strike-puts-final-exams-in-danger-l27b9x7vn
This is a fairly reasonably written article, thanks for that to "The Times". Some of the comments made by members of the public are rather less so.
VC pay is certainly a point that received attention recently, but it is not the main issue here. The UK university landscape is booming, but that has not resulted in marked increases in staff pay. On the contrary, the original final salary pension scheme, run by USS until 2016, that most academics joined at their universities, was downgraded to a less attractive defined benefits scheme (DBS) to make it "stable". Let me also point out that in distinction to most non-academic careers, lecturers will routinely spend years (~10) of their early employment in further study, fixed-term situations and fellowships, many of which do not result in pension-eligible contributions, before landing that first permanent employment (and many never do). A simple comparison with the "private sector" is hence missing the point. The reward for lecturers until recently was a "lowish" salary coupled with a good pension.
Some comments correctly ask why the previous scheme now seems in trouble. The question for academics is slightly different: why should they now trust a proposed defined contributions scheme (DCS), where you pay without knowing what you get, when the track record of the current USS scheme is so dismal? Furthermore, the current deficit is an actuarial one: for the purpose of the pension fund, all participating universities are assumed to be part of a single "company" and the "risk" to the pension fund is one in which all these places go bust at the same time. Times readers will know that this is a highly unlikely scenario (I do not know a case when this has ever happened).
Some commentators are correctly unhappy about the possible impact on student education and progression. As lecturer, I fully agree. As employee at a university, I am faced with effectively a substantial (future) pay cut by my employer. Hence it is my employer, the university, who has decided not to pay for the lectures (and the marking, the supervision, the tutorial/pastoral care, the work done in research, etc.). Let me also note that students have overwhelmingly joined forces with lecturers in this dispute.
Last, but not least, perhaps it is useful to point out that the universities involved in the current strike action are the older, more research active universities, i.e. many of the crown jewels of the UK university system. The younger universities of the post-90 age are part of the largely taxpayer-funded "teacher pension scheme" (TPS). Colleagues in that scheme tell me that their pensions are expected to be better than what USS will provide. The TPS scheme still contains elements of final salary and career-averaged benefits (since 2015).