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In an extraordinary turn of events, Oxford and Cambridge have been accused of disproportionately influencing the vote that led to the pension dispute, as between their constituent colleges they made up a third of institutions that voted to lower the risk of the current system.
Universities UK confirmed to SCAN that “all USS employers are consulted”, and confirmed to the Financial Times that Oxbridge Colleges accounted for one third of the total voting for less risk in the September consultation. As Universities UK counts every employer as equal, this means every college would have had the same voting rights as entire universities such as Lancaster that voted to maintain the current levels of risk.
Cambridge University has 31 constituent colleges, while Oxford University incorporates 38. With every college at these universities counting as a separate employer in the USS, the two universities between them make up an astonishing 69 out of the 350 employers in the USS pension scheme, or roughly 20%.
In a consultation document released in September the USS offered the choice between the higher risks and higher costs to its member institutions. 42% of respondents voted to lower the risk levels for the scheme, a level of opposition significant enough to force a move towards the lower risk model that the academic staff union opposes.
Michael Otsuka, Professor in Philosophy at the London School of Economics, has accused the top-tier institutions of wanting out of the USS Scheme and escaping the cost incurred by pooling risk with “weaker” institutions in his blog:
“Oxford and Cambridge have, however, devised another, less expensive way of leaving the DB (pension) scheme: namely, pushing for its closure across all 68 pre-92 universities, with the upshot that everyone leaves it.”
“Oxford and Cambridge are the most prominent and apparently hawkish members of the 42% of employers who ‘broke’ the September valuation by calling for a lower level of risk than USS proposed. Against the contrary views of the other 58% of employers, USS obliged the wishes of this minority, thereby rendering (the pension scheme) unaffordable.”
In an interview with SCAN, members of the Lancaster UCU branch accused the elite universities of wanting to increase their ability to borrow capital by eliminating limited levels of risk:
“It is our view that the attitude of Oxford and Cambridge, compared with other universities re the collective/covenant of USS, is radically out of line but has had significant influence on the consultation outcome (given each Oxbridge college is given a vote rather than the whole University, that may have skewed voting figures by as much as 25%).”
SCAN has repeatedly approached Oxford and Cambridge for comment but they have yet to respond