UCU threatens to boycott Trinity College over USS withdrawal

The University and College Union has threatened Trinity College after a key vote to overturn the college’s decision to exit from USS failed

The University and College Union (UCU) has threatened to boycott Trinity College after a key vote to overturn the college’s withdrawal from the USS pension scheme failed.

College fellows voted to reconsider the plans to exit the scheme but voted 73-46 in favour of the original decision.

The union censured the college at an emergency meeting of its higher education committee (HEC). If the college does not reverse its decision, the UCU may boycott the institution. If the boycott goes ahead, it would only be the second time ever for the UCU.

Trinity College voted to leave the USS because of a “remote but existential risk” the college would become liable to pay for pensions in the “wholly unlikely” eventuality the higher education sector collapses. The pension scheme has joint liability for employers.

UCU warns that this “overreaction” would damage confidence in the scheme. It is meeting with college officials to seek to overturn the decision.

The UCU will also consider what would happen in the event it did decide to boycott Trinity College. The UCU may ask members 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.

Since the decision was originally taken by the college, 500 academics at Cambridge University have signed a letter saying they will not do discretionary work for Trinity or supervise its students.

Rory Landman, Trinity’s senior bursar, said in a comment to The Guardian: “This is not a decision taken lightly by the college council. Following substantial legal and actuarial advice and bearing in mind our responsibilities as charity trustees of Trinity, we believe leaving USS is in the best interests of the college. This decision also helps to ensure Trinity’s continued and substantial financial support to the whole of collegiate Cambridge.”

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.”

(Image credit: Rafa Esteve, Wikipedia)

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