Sunday 25 February 2018

Let Us Consider

It was a long time ago, the 70's, when in local government and education as well as others there were endless and difficult wages and salaries negotiations with the unions and professional bodies over pensions, staffing and the rest. It meant a lot of deals done in a hurry and compromises everywhere and by everybody.

Next time round we were all back at the starting gate again. The rate of inflation meant that the race was re-run at shorter and shorter intervals. Lewis Carroll's Caucus Race in his book "Alice In Wonderland" was a model of rationality compared to what went on behind closed doors in the committee rooms.

The great question was that did all the extra wages and conditions of service costs play a major part in the inflation much of it being part of government spending, or was it other factors, such as oil prices etc. that were the problem? The argument still rages.

The universities were an interesting case. They were not public sector despite the government holding the whip hand over most of their functioning. Yet they were well removed from the private sector in staff matters. What they did have for their academic staff was a pension scheme that was very generous.

When the universities were small in number they had devised the scheme and funding arrangement which worked very well. One aspect was some carried on past the age required. As academics had work schedules which allowed many to totter on until a late age, you do not give up on all that research, sense of identity and status easily.

The expansions of the 60's and later, new universities created, older ones expanding and institutions changing status all taking in more and then younger staff skewed the average academic employee age etc. downward, which meant that contributions to the fund went up at a time when retirements were relatively few.

Playing my role of Mr. Misery, I tried and failed to point out  that in a distant future the figures would begin to turn and when they did at first it would not seem to be a problem but then suddenly it would and the implications were nasty. Nobody wanted to know.

They all wanted a deal now so OK to all the concessions etc., especially early retirements, the sine qua non of any reshuffles or reorganisations. Also by the time it went bad most of us would be long retired and of course enjoying the relevant benefits. This was an interest never declared nor admitted all those years ago.

The number of people who disagreed with me was far greater than those that did, what any, well hardly any. The few that took the figures seriously preferred to say nowt, hang on and get theirs first before it was blancmange in the fan time.

In that case the longer the potential problems were left, disputed, disregarded and denied the more difficult they would become, especially if the solutions suggested then would be more fudge, compromise or escapism of the financial kind.

So here we are there in the present never never land of university pensions. A new scheme has been imposed and the academics of the present who are blameless of the past do not like it and want was in the time before. They have gone on strike and the students are unhappy.

As they would be, with student fees to curse the lives of many them for decades to come, subjects of study unrelated to anything much either academic or practical and allegedly only half of them at best getting a job requiring degree status there are more questions.

Even then it is worth recalling that once most teachers did not have graduate status, their teacher training certificate said to require more work and study than a degree but for lesser pay (and pension). A raft of other occupations had routes to qualify which were testing over several years of part time study, again at a high level.

The universities, once academic establishments now more resemble business operations where the churn rate, return on "investment" and financial figures matter most. But in effect they are a nationalised fractured business with dodgy hit or miss management and a clientele who have a debt problem.

One thing the staff and students are agreed on is that the government should pick up the bill, which is a very big one and a major commitment for the future.

Most of those paying the taxes are likely to be people who never went to university or migrants who never will.


  1. The evaluation method used to calculate the scheme deficit of more than £6bn has been described as "recklessly prudent".

    Maybe Gordon Brown gave prudence a bad name.

  2. The overwhelming attitude of these over-paid and selfish twerps on strike seems to be that the USS implosion is all an "accounting fiddle", despite virtually none of them having the first clue regarding actuaral science or accounting!