Everywhere else has already downgraded their pensions
One argument is that University staff have always been paid less than the private sector, and this has been compensated, in part, by the pension. In recent years University staff have had pay rises under the rate of inflation (so, effectively, pay cuts). One reason these have been accepted without much grumbling is the perception that there is a compact : University staff accept less pay in return for a good pension scheme.
Another argument is that Universities are not companies, so shouldn’t have the same attitude to risk. In other words, the Higher Education sector, as a national asset, cannot go bust in the way a private company can. Indeed, half University staff are in a a government backed pension (those in new Universities, which are not strike) ).
Finally, the argument that someone else is disadvantaged doesn’t mean you should be to. If you are getting mugged on Pontefract high-street and call for help you wouldnt be pleased to hear “People are being bombed in Syria, cheer up”. This is “race to the bottom” logic - everyone ends with the worst possible deal.
University staff would also like to see good pension deals for everyone in society, not just themselves. Opposing pension downgrades in Universities can be part of opposing pension downgrades everywhere.
The strike hurts students
Striking staff are those who have most direct contact with students, who are most passionate about teaching and supporting students through their time at University.
Nobody takes decision to strike easily - we’d all much rather be teaching than striking - but we’ve been forced to a point where we have to act.
If Universities can’t pay their staff in a way that enables them to one day retire then it is going to make every aspect of University worse for everyone - including students.
Yes, teaching hours are lost this academic year, but the benefits of properly compensated staff will be felt by students for generations.
The National Union of Students recognises this, and supports the strike.
Both staff and Universities will work to minimise the impact of the strikes on students once the strikes are over - including any adjustments in grading which are needed to compensate for missed teaching.
The current pension plan is unaffordable
The future health of the USS pension is contested. One set of official figures suggest that the fund doesn’t have enough money to pay out without reform (is “in deficit”). But this deficit is not a simple matter of adding up all the asset held by the scheme - it depends on assumptions about how long staff will live, what will happen to the stock market, whether any Universities will close down, etc. Other estimates suggest that the USS pension has enough assets to support pay outs without reforms.
The details of how these valuations are made are technical and beyond the scope of this website. If you’re interested there is a collection of links on the USS valuation page.
Obviously an unaffordable scheme is unsustainable, and University staff want a scheme that protects them in retirement as well as people who will be recruited to work at Universities in the future.
Striking staff are calling for a transparent review of the value of the USS pension, so everyone can agree on the foundation for any reforms.