The race-to-the-bottom logic from two former professors of cutting “gold-plated” university pensions to pay for future generations (Letters, 3 December) is uncalled for. University employers actually boast in their strike-breaking propaganda that the average pension is £17,000 pa. If we old professors get more, others – those who retired as lecturers, or entered the profession late in life – are already getting less. Worse, Waspi women who lost out in the gender pay gap are simultaneously robbed by the retrospective raising of the state pension age.
Defined-benefit university pensions could always be afforded, for all staff. The percentage of UK university income going to salaries and pensions is in steady decline, yet the Universities Superannuation Scheme has assets of £65bn, larger than the sovereign wealth fund of France. The underlying problem is plate glass, not gold-plate. Balance sheet pensions and salary “liabilities” make it harder for universities to leverage their student-fee income stream to build big, shiny lecture theatres (to be fronted by hourly-paid, temporary lecturers); but also hotels and shopping malls.
Unfounded claims of the inability to employ people decently, to pay fair salaries, and meet longstanding and affordable pension commitments derive from the hubris of but a few stupendously overpaid university Hoffas, who would rather be property magnates than lead a workforce of committed staff. This mania’s consequences are indeed inflicted disproportionately on students, and on newer colleagues, and therefore on younger generations.
Our role as oldie profs should be to campaign in solidarity with younger people rather than rehearsing Daily Mail language of gold-plated pensions. I will be donating to the union strike hardship fund, and I invite other university pensioners who can afford it to do the same.
Professor Bill Cooke
• Professors Hadden and McLellan argue that retired academics should have their pensions reduced to help subsidise contributions by current staff. Their letter deflects attention from more significant factors leading to the pension crisis including the historic mismanagement of the USS scheme, the channelling of funds from student fees into infrastructure and senior management salaries, and the casualisation of the workforce, which reduces pension contributions for employers.
Not all retired academics are as well off as the professors assume. I wonder how many can really afford to give up part of their pension?
Emeritus professor of law, Soas, University of London
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