University lecturers are threatening national strike action over redundancies. They have rejected proposed changes to their pensions and are asking for a 4 per cent pay rise this year. Are such demands from the University and College Union realistic in such austere times for the economy? We would argue they are not, given the dire state of the public finances and the expected shortfall in the Universities Superannuation Scheme pension pot.
The universities have suggested changing the pension for all future employees, not for those currently on the scheme. That is because they reckon the scheme won't survive otherwise, because everyone is living so long. Academics need to be realistic about what future generations can expect. We believe too that the UCU needs to be careful about going into battle over redundancies when the university sector is being expected to take its fair share of the cuts. Universities try very hard not to make compulsory redundancies. Most, if not all, of the job cuts that have been made to date have been voluntary, which keeps hardship to a minimum.
Universities have grown hugely in the past 13 years. Spending has more or less doubled, and academics are better paid than they have been for a long time. Recognising the acute financial pressures on universities, Professor Malcolm Grant, provost of University College London, has taken a 10 per cent pay cut, and has frozen the pay of his senior managers for another year. Perhaps the UCU should take a leaf out of his book and moderate their demands.