Monday, 24 November 2014

Save our Universities!

An independent Scotland is in danger of losing one of its major assets in the time between now and independence---the excellence of its universities is under threat. Below is an open letter to my MSPs. Support and suggestions for how to carry this forward as a campaign are solicited.
Dear Gavin Brown, Sarah Boyack, Alison Johnstone, Kezia Dugdale, Cameron Buchanan and Neil Findlay,

I write to ask your help to preserve a secure future for Scottish Universities.

Academics for all UK universities, including those in Scotland, have faced falling wages and falling pensions over many years.  "The real
wages of academics have fallen by 13% since 2008, one of the largest
sustained wage cuts any profession has suffered since the Second World
War." So wrote Will Hutton in the Guardian, October 2013 [1].

In 2011, Universities UK imposed vastly reduced pensions on new
hires. Old hires who pay into the pension fund for forty years receive
a pension of one-half their final salary; new hires who do the same
receive a pension of one-half their average salary. Basing pensions on
average rather than final salary may be sensible, but to do so with no
adjustment in multiplier suggests employers are using this as an
excuse to slip in a large cut; it means new hires receive about 2/3
the benefits received by old hires. All staff also suffered other cuts
to pensions: additional caps and less good adjustment for inflation.
At the time, it was predicted that within a few years old hires would
be moved to the inferior scheme for new hires, and that is what has
now come to pass. [2]

Universities UK argue that the reductions are necessary to avoid a
deficit, but their claim has been widely criticised. Notably, a group
of prominent statisticians point out Universities UK inflated the
deficit by assuming a buoyant economy when predicting future salaries
but assuming a recession when predicting investment returns. [3]

A strong university system is one of the jewels in the crown of the
UK, and particularly for Scotland.  That excellence is a huge driver
of innovation and growth. If Scotland reduces its investment in
universities, it won't be long before we feel that loss throughout the
economy. [4,5]

Scotland has a University system second to none, and to keep it strong
we need pay and pensions that attract and retain the best minds
throughout the world.  We must have a system that is fair to both: old
hires must retain attractive conditions; new hires must have the bad
deal imposed on them in 2011 rolled back. Speaking as an old hire, I'd
settle for a cut in pension if it meant bringing new hires onto
the same level: we must keep the system strong for the future.

An obvious point to aim for is parity with the TPS scheme used at
post-92 institutions; fall below that and we will see old universities
lose their best staff to post-92 institutions, a nonsensical position.

The UCU is currently in negotiation with UUK, but there is unlikely
to be a good outcome without political support.

I write to ask you, as my representative in the Scottish parliament,
will you direct the Scottish Funding Council to make fair treatment
for academics in Scottish Universities, both new hires and old, a top

Thank you for your consideration. Yours,

-- Philip Wadler
Professor of Theoretical Computer Science
School of Informatics
University of Edinburgh

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