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University pensions fight

Academics marching under the UCU banner at last year’s Tolpuddle Festival. Photo Workers.

Strike action has begun in universities across Britain as academic staff fight back against the plan by the university employers association, Universities UK, to close their final salary pension scheme.

Nearly 40,000 academic staff in 61 universities are involved following large majorities for action in a national ballot. Overall 88 per cent of union members voting in the University and College Union ballot supported action to stop the changes.

The pension plan, known as the Universities Superannuation Scheme, applies mainly to staff in the “pre-1992” universities (the former polytechnics are covered by the Teachers’ Pension Scheme) and has assets of around £60.55 billion with 396,000 members, including 66,000 retirees. It is well funded, yet Universities UK has dreamt up the idea that there is a gap of £12.6 billion between the fund’s assets and liabilities.

The employers’ calculation is based on a spot price fix geared to one day in March 2017. On that one mechanical assumption, they have said that in 20 years’ time or so there will be insufficient funds to pay pensions.

Such nonsense has time and time again been used as a pretext for pension scheme closure throughout Britain. And the accounting mechanism applied to produce it comes from the European Insurance and Occupational Pensions Authority (EIOPA), which hides behind the UK Pensions Regulator while delivering its EU diktat.

Over many years the EIOPA and its forerunners have stacked the odds against running occupational final salary schemes in Britain. It is no more complicated than that.

The strikes started on 22 and 23 February, and will be followed by three-, four- and five-day actions in subsequent weeks.

• A longer version of this article is on the web at  University pensions fight takes off.