The campaign continues…here are some questions (with some context) that Bristol UCU Executive will be asking UCU Senate Members to raise at Senate on 15th December.
USS – Experts Against The Proposals
A group of leading authorities on statistics, financial mathematics and actuarial science, including two from Bristol, have written to the USS Trustees criticising the assumptions that underpin the estimation of the USS deficit as being ill-founded, economically incoherent and containing circular arguments.
Should Bristol University not expect the same standards of intellectual honestly and exactitude from its pension fund trustees and representatives as it expects from its academics and students?
Threat to Make Staff Personally Liable for Damages – A Highly Dubious Bullying Tactic
Two eminent academic lawyers, Professor Alan Bogg at Oxford and Professor K D Ewing at King’s College London, have coined the term “Taff Vale universities” with reference to the infamous legal case in 1901 in which a railway company sued a trade union for damages caused by a strike. A Taff Vale university is one whose management has threatened to recover from its academic staff any losses incurred by the university in the event that the university is sued by students as the result its staff taking legitimate industrial action. Bogg and Ewing identify this as an unenforceable bullying tactic and very probably a violation of workers’ basic human rights. Only a handful of university managements have taken the Taff Vale line but, shamefully, Bristol is one of them. Southampton has back-tracked saying it was “a mistake”.
Will Bristol, too, admit its mistake and publicly withdraw this vicious but empty threat before even more damage is done to its relations with staff?
Not Everything is Doom and Gloom – Universities are Breaking Ranks
In his recent email to staff in USS Sir Eric said, “I have also supported the proposition that it is better to act decisively now… than to fiddle around the edges again and have to revisit the issue in three years time when things may well be worse“. We can only wonder why Sir Eric is less keen to entertain the proposition that things may well get better. A recent report from the Pensions Insurance Corporation identifies a plausible scenario in which the recent pick-up in economic growth is maintained without increased inflation, in which case a typical defined benefit pension scheme could return to full funding within a few years. Warwick University’s management has expressed deep reservations that, “the need to achieve a decisive outcome for future funding arrangements needs to be balanced against making irreversible changes to benefits which may go further than is necessary if the deficit… is based on over-pessimistic assumptions and inappropriate methodology“. Imperial College has told UUK that, “we are concerned that you risk recommending a major downgrading of one of our employees most important benefits based on numbers which are as likely to be modelling artefacts as a reflection of the underlying economic reality“.
Given what is at stake, are there not very good reasons to tread cautiously now and not rush into radical irreversible reforms?