Bridge of Sighs, Hertford College

Oxford colleges not unanimously against pension reform

Six colleges, of which only Hertford and Pembroke are currently named, justified pension reform on the basis of wanting ‘less risk’, seen through their responses to a Universities UK (UUK) survey.

This follows considerable student protest in Oxford to counter the government’s proposed changes to pensions, which contributed the the University’s eventual u-turn on the issue.

The change is in regard to moving from a system of Defined Benefit, which guarantees a minimum income, and Defined Contribution, which relies upon the stock market.

Hertford College’s stance on the matter changed earlier this month, with it being stated that, “Hertford College has today written to Universities UK to give notice of its decision to withdraw its response to the recent employer survey regarding USS pension changes. Further, the College has declared support for the USS Trustees’ recommendations on the specific question of the appropriate level of risk.”

It was also explained that: “this action has been taken following a Governing Body review of the USS negotiations process to date, which identified concerns with the manner in which UUK have interpreted survey submissions and the lack of response to requests made for additional data.

“It considers that these failings undermine the validity and usefulness of the survey’s conclusions.”

Information regarding the stances of Oxford colleges on the controversial pension reform come after minutes from the Meeting of the Oxford Estates Bursar’s Committee were leaked to London School of Economics professor Michael Otsuka.

It is not yet known which other colleges justified the reform through responses to the survey. Colleges yet to respond to requests about their answers include All Souls, Brasenose, Christ Church, Harris Manchester, Keble, Kellogg, Magdalen, St Catherine’s, St Peter’s, and Trinity, and most colleges did not respond to the survey.

42% of surveyed institutions wanted the lower risk, and around a third of these were already known to be Oxbridge Colleges. It was assumed the majority were Cambridge Colleges, which had been more open on their official stances.

The most openly opposed to the reforms has been The Queen’s College, stating that “the emergence of a possible defined-benefit arrangement at this point raises the question of why, and with what mandate, UUK initially favoured so decisively a defined-contribution scheme.

“We remain troubled by what appears to have been a reluctance to consider alternative approaches and to think more creatively about the ways in which a defined-benefit arrangement could be made to work.

“For instance, we previously suggested that tiered employee contribution rates be adopted (compare the Teachers’ Pension Scheme, the Local Government Pension Scheme, and the Civil Service Pension Scheme, for example).

“It still remains unclear whether this possibility has been explored and why, if so, it has been rejected.”