To all my students,
As you are aware, the UCU is planning strike action over the next few weeks (starting on 22 February). This is likely to cause annoyance and disruption to you and so I wanted to explain why I am supporting the strike.
I love my job and enjoy teaching you – I even took a dramatic pay cut to come from the private sector to work at UCL. But when I signed my contract in September 2017, I was guaranteed a pension of £10,000 a year (if I contributed to the USS until I retire), which made up for some of the loss of income now. Less than 6 months later however the University Employers are proposing to change the pension scheme so that even if I continue to pay a substantial part of my salary into the scheme for the rest of my working life, I will be guaranteed a pension of just £2,000 a year when I retire.
This raises a number of problems for me. You will have probably noticed that I have a very strong sense of right and wrong. And I just can’t see how these changes to my pension can be right – I am being asked to do the same work, take home the same wages and pay the same into the pension fund, yet I will get paid less when I retire. The simple unfairness of this situation is the first reason I am striking – if my employers do not want to keep up their part of our bargain, then I will not keep up my part.
But there is something more important than that at stake. No-one can live on £2000 a year. If the University Employers get their way, there is a risk that I will not be able to put food on my table or heat my home when I am older. And unfortunately the burden of taking care of me will fall upon you. Just as you will have finished paying your student debts, you will be lumbered with the cost of supporting an older generation who tried to take care of themselves, but who couldn’t. Future governments will have to choose between investing in education and healthcare for you and your children, or in making sure that my generation does not die in destitution. I am striking because it is unfair to pass this burden onto you when we should – and want to – be able to provide for ourselves.
Finally, I am striking because the USS pension is a legacy that was hard fought for by previous generations of academics, and a legacy that we must protect for future generations of academics too. Far from facing a crisis, the USS fund has made a surplus of 12% over the past five years and has enough income to pay its current liabilities for the next 40 years. It would be a dishonour to the great people who came before us and to the generations yet to come if we let an academic career became the preserve of the wealthy.
So while I am regretful about the impact that my decision to strike will have on you over the next few weeks, I hope you will understand, respect and perhaps support my reasons for doing so. A strike is always a last resort, but this is as much about your futures as it is about mine.
If you want to know more about the changes being proposed to our pension scheme, I have live tweeted from the recent UCL USS Town Hall Meeting (@melaniesmallman)