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Brunel Strike: What’s it all about?

Unprecedented levels of strike action, widespread disruption, and a potential recruitment disaster for UK universities - this is what campuses in London are facing after the proposed changes to their lecturers’ pension.

The changes will leave university lecturers £10,000 worse off on average every year after retirement, or £200,000 in total, according to the University and College Union, and staff at 14 universities in London have agreed to carry out 4 weeks of strike action.

Photo: Smiths Magazine

As Brunel University lecturers have already geared up for the waves of strike, IKB Insider has taken a closer look at the background to the pension dispute to figure out exactly why these changes, which will see a shift in their pension scheme from a defined-benefit to a defined-contribution scheme, have been proposed.

Briefly explained, the current benefit scheme is a mix of defined-benefit and defined-contribution pension. This means that the pension contribution of the first £55,000 goes into the defined-benefits pot which guarantees them a fixed pension payout when they retire. Anything earned over this is earmarked for the defined-contribution scheme; a more volatile pot where the amount of pension you get back depends on the state of the money market the day they retire - changes that will, undoubtedly, leave the future of university lecturers’ pension uncertain as it will no longer be based on their final salary.

The changes are meant to cover a £6.1 billion deficit and the cost of pension which has risen by one-third over the last three years. “The deficit is primarily due to lower expectations for economic growth, and specifically lower expectations for future investment returns,” said Michael Thompson, spokesperson for Universities UK.

This means that an additional £1 billion per year will be needed to maintain the current pension benefits - a problem that is, according to Mr Thompson, faced by the vast majority of UK funded defined-benefits schemes. “To meet union demands, employers will have to make cuts to teaching, jobs, and research to move more money into paying pensions, he said. This would harm the high quality of education students currently have.” Questioning the loss of £200,000 in retirement, as claimed by the Union and College Union, Universities UK says the Union has been unwilling to move from its one unaffordable proposal and ‘refusing to accept the level of risk facing the scheme.’ “The union continues to quote future pensions figures without revealing how they’ve been calculated,” said Mr Thompson, further adding that if a credible and affordable solution were to be put forward by the union, the employers would consider it.

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