Employment

‘I’m considering not having kids’: Staff at UK universities speak of impact of pension cut

Academics say their retirement earnings will fall by almost half after a new change to their pension scheme last week

University staff on strike in 2016. Image: Nick Efford/flickr

Staff at the UK’s universities say they’re reconsidering having children and thinking of moving abroad, after a new cut to their pension scheme.

A reform to the University Superannuation Scheme (USS), the higher education pensions scheme, has them expecting to retire on just half of what they had been before the change.

The University and College Union says the change, agreed by universities last week, meant bosses had “chosen to steal tens of thousands from the retirement income of staff”.

With another round of strikes at the country’s universities marked by this ongoing battle over pensions, academics shared how changes on spreadsheets will affect their lives and careers.

“Angry doesn’t really do it justice”

With 30 years left until retirement, Jason Slade is looking at his guaranteed retirement income dropping from £24k to £14k a year. Slade, a lecturer in planning at the University of Sheffield, fears this could be hit further if there is no guarantee that this will rise with inflation.

“I am very angry, as are many colleagues,” Slade said. That anger, in particular, is rooted in the fact that the changes are based on a valuation at the start of the pandemic – when the USS had a deficit of £14.1billion. That deficit now sits at £2.9billion.

Jason Slade says anger is widespread among his colleagues. Image: Supplied

“On a personal level the difference between living on £24k a year and £14k a year is huge – the former figure might allow you to occasionally go out for dinner, to have a holiday – it’s much harder to do on the latter,” he said.

“It means I’m considering not having kids to save money”

Sociology lecturer Dominic Hinde says he’s thinking of moving abroad after the cut to his pension. Image: Supplied

After the changes were announced, Dominic Hinde is now looking at working until he is 70. He was expecting a final pension of around £30,000 a year. Now it will likely be £14,000.

This change has forced Hinde, who works as a lecturer in sociology at the University of Glasgow to reconsider the path of his life, in a bid to secure himself financially. “That means taking on more freelance work but also things like not having kids to save money,” he told The Big Issue.

“It will make me look long and hard at moving to the Netherlands or Scandinavia for better conditions.

“Fundamentally it undermines trust in the sector too. It makes it hard to justify going the extra mile for students when this is what we get back for it. Morale has hit rock bottom and neither university leaders nor government fully understand what they have done.”

“I often wonder what I’m doing working for a university”

Ryan Sweet, a lecturer in humanities at Swansea University, spent years training and working on insecure contracts to reach his position – and now reflects on those years in the context of the cut to his pension. He’s in a similar situation to Slade and Hinde, looking at annual income in retirement dropping to £14,000. This has added to long-running thoughts about leaving the sector.

Ryan Slade, who says he thinks about leaving higher education every day. Image: Supplied

“To be honest, I think daily about leaving Higher Education. I look around at my peers with equivalent levels of training, working in different sectors. They get paid more, are respected by their firms, get rewarded for good performance or extra work, are fairly treated, are looked after in retirement, and are generally less stressed and overworked. I often wonder what I’m doing working for a university,” he said.

New projections show Sweet that the total value of his pension will fall from just over £1million to £564,000 – a 44 per cent cut.

“I don’t know how universities can expect us to provide excellent teaching and produce world-class research when our working conditions are like this.”

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