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Universities to Suffer Strikes Over Pension Concerns

U.K. campuses will see an unprecedented strike as the Universities Superannuation Scheme prepares to make changes to the pension plan.

  • By Joe McGrath

A trade union representing staff enrolled in the U.K.’s £60 billion ($84 billion) Universities Superannuation Scheme has announced a strike to protest changes to their pension benefits.

The University and College Union said Monday that employees at 61 British universities will start striking February 22 because of Universities UK’s decision last week to convert the defined benefit plan into a defined contribution scheme. The University of Oxford, the University of Cambridge and the University of Edinburgh are among the schools affected by the protests, the UCC statement shows.

The UUK wants to switch plans due to concerns about the size of USS’s funding deficit, estimated between £12.6 billion and £17.5 billion in its 2017 annual report. The UCU says the move will leave a typical lecturer almost £10,000 a year worse off in retirement.

“Strike action on this scale has not been seen before on U.K. campuses,” UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said in the statement. “Universities need to know the full scale of the disruption they will be hit with if they refuse to sort this mess out.”

[II Deep Dive: The Story of the USS Pension Fiasco]

The month-long protest will start with two days of strikes during the first week. The number of days spent striking will then increase over the period to culminate in a complete week of walkouts ending March 16, according to the UCU statement.

The USS is the U.K.’s largest private-sector pension scheme and has about 390,000 members. Outrage over how much chancellors are paid to run the universities that are cutting pension benefits has added fuel to UCU’s anger.

“They feel let down by vice-chancellors who seem to care more about defending their own pay and perks than the rights of their staff,” Hunt said in the statement.

Universities UK, which represents college plan sponsors of the USS pension, believes the switch to a defined contribution model was unavoidable.

“That decision is a necessary step, made in the best interests of university staff, to put USS on a sustainable footing for the long-term,” a UUK spokesman said in a statement. “The scheme will continue to offer attractive pensions through market-leading defined contribution benefits.”

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