The role of Cambridge Colleges in the University teacher’s strike

Cambridge colleges

This article by Mike Otsuka, is designed to be read together with my blog on the emotional intelligence of the teaching staff at Girton College Cambridge.

Mike’s article has been widely read and quoted around Cambridge (this is how the student’s Varsity magazine reported it). For many teachers and students, this will be their first taste of industrial action.

It now emerges that the Oxbridge Universities, Cambridge in particular, have been central to the causes of the current industrial unrest.

Ironically, I was a part of a teachers strike in 1981 , when the structuralists and the Leavisites went to war over the sacking of Colin McCabe! How things have changed!

Here is Mike in an article that he published yesterday on his own blog


Cambridge Colleges coordinated a rejection of USS’s proposed level of risk

Leaked email also reveals push for DC motivated by ‘last man standing’ worries

[This post is a follow-up to “Oxford’s and Cambridge’s role in the demise of USS”.]

A leaked email to the Bursars of the 31 Cambridge Colleges, from the Pensions Sub-Committee of an intercollegiate Bursars’ Committee, conveys a harshly negative assessment of the level of investment risk that USS proposed in their September valuation:

In the opinion of the Employers body UUK, and now crucially also of the Pensions Regulator (PR) … the [USS] Trustees are overestimating the medium term credit quality of the Higher Education sector, and using very aggressive assumptions to provide options for the next set of benefits and contributions….

The email also confirms my claim here that the push for DC for future service was motivated by ‘last man standing’ fears. The Sub-Committee “advocates a strong move to DC now”, with the upshot that “future investment risk and return would fall on the employees”. The Sub-Committee also refers to a suggested common line of reply to the consultation, which expresses a strong preference for “Sectionalisation of the Scheme, whereby the stronger covenants in the Sector such as the Colleges and University would no longer act as ‘last men standing’ in the worst case, and which would actually be achieved for future service by a move to DC” [my emphasis].

At this “important moment in the evolution of USS”, the Sub-Committee “recommends that all Colleges aim to respond to the consultation” in a suggested manner that would bring their responses in line with the University’s response.

In addition to the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, 66 higher education institutions, most of them universities, were balloted for industrial action by UCU in December and January. But USS reports that 116 institutions responded to the UUK consultation. Given the coordination and prompting of the email from the Sub-Committee, it is likely that Cambridge Colleges are among many of the 50 higher education institutions beyond the 66. In line with common practice, it is likely that Oxford also coordinated a response among its Colleges.

In USS’s response to the UUK employer consultation on the September valuation, much is made of the fact that “a significant minority (42%) of survey respondents wanted less risk to be taken — including some of the very largest employers”.

If it turns out that this 42% figure was inflated by the inclusion of a number of Oxford and Cambridge colleges, USS’s decision in November to speed up the ‘de-risking’ of the portfolio was based on a misleading UUK prospectus regarding the level of opposition among employers to investment risk. It should be a special concern for USS members beyond Oxford and Cambridge if these two institutions exercised such disproportionate influence.

[Click this link for the text of the email in full from the Cambridge Pensions Sub-Committee.]


About henry tapper

Founder of the Pension PlayPen,, partner of Stella, father of Olly . I am the Pension Plowman
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2 Responses to The role of Cambridge Colleges in the University teacher’s strike

  1. John Mather says:

    The last man standing concern does need to be addressed but unlikely to happen as long as those who hack at the leaves of the problem avoid dealing with the root of the issue.

    If we are to restore faith in pensions demonizing the many professionals with a few examples of crooks is not the way

  2. Richard Bryan says:

    So we don’t know whether or not the rest of the Oxford and Cambridge colleges (the majority, if 16 were for lower risk) actually made a response. If they did, it was presumably for ‘risk ok’. We don’t know the other institutions going for ‘lower risk’ (the majority of those doing so). And we don’t know how the UUK came to a decision in the light of the responses (see my previous comment).
    It would be good to know all this before assigning blame!

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