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Union censures Cambridge’s Trinity College in row over pension scheme

The University and College Union (UCU) has today (Friday) officially censured Trinity College, Cambridge after it decided to pull out of the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS). At a meeting of the college’s Fellows this morning, a motion to reconsider the decision to withdraw from USS was lost by 43 votes to 76.

The union said its decision, taken at an emergency meeting of its higher education committee (HEC), meant that if Trinity did not reverse its decision then the union would implement a boycott of the institution. A boycott is the union’s strongest sanction and has only been used once before, on London Metropolitan University in 2009.

Trinity’s decision to leave the scheme is based on a wholly unlikely scenario where the college would have to carry the can for pension liabilities if the rest of the higher education sector collapsed, as USS is a “last man standing scheme” with employers jointly liable.

UCU said Trinity’s overreaction to such an unlikely risk would result in a scheme exit bill of millions and untold damage to its reputation if a boycott was sanctioned. The union said it was setting up a special committee to deal with the Trinity issue and said it hoped to meet with the college and press the case for it to reverse its decision before the boycott became necessary.

That committee will also consider what action the boycott would entail, but the union said it may include asking higher education staff across the globe to:

  • Not attend, speak at or organise academic or other conferences at Trinity
  • Not apply for jobs at Trinity
  • Not give lectures at Trinity
  • Not accept positions as visiting professors or researchers at Trinity
  • Not write for any academic journal which is edited from Trinity
  • Not take up new contracts as external examiners.

UCU head of higher education Paul Bridge said:

‘The cost to Trinity’s reputation from a boycott will be far greater than the tiny risk of being left to carry the can for pensions if the higher education sector collapses. Trinity’s overreaction to such an unlikely risk will cost the college millions of pounds and leave it at odds with the rest of the sector when it comes to pension provision.

‘A boycott is our most serious sanction, but Trinity needs to be clear that we are prepared to implement one there. The sector needs to work together to deliver high quality, guaranteed pensions and it is up to Trinity to now reconsider its short-sighted decision.’

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