UNIVERSITY bosses’ unity appeared to be crumbling in the face of strikes by lecturers after Cambridge warned today that it could break ranks in the pension dispute if a resolution is not found.
Cambridge University threatened to launch an independent pension scheme for its academic staff if employers’ organisation Universities UK (UUK) fails to reach agreement with the University and College Union (UCU).
Talks between the two sides will open on Monday through conciliation service Acas.
Some 40,000 lecturers at 64 universities have joined the strikes since they began last week.
In total, 14 days of action are planned, affecting more than one million students.
UUK wants to abolish the current lecturers’ pension scheme linked to final salaries and replace it with one dependent on stock market fluctuations.
However, UCU says the plan will see retired lecturers lose £10,000 a year.
UUK is composed of university vice-chancellors, whose pensions are also linked to their final salaries — though they will not be affected.
Cambridge Vice-Chancellor Stephen Toope said pensions are key to attracting international academics to Britain, warning that his university might leave the USS scheme if no deal is done.
He said UCU proposals should be among those studied in the effort to find a resolution.
“I strongly support the exploration of ideas to resolve this situation, including those put forward by UCU,” Professor Toope said.
“If all else fails and no sector-wide scheme is deliverable, Cambridge will have to consider whether there is scope for a Cambridge-specific scheme — either within or outside the USS.”
UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said: “Professor Toope is right to say things cannot go on as they are.
"We would argue they never should have been allowed to get this far in the first place. It is important we all move forward to Monday’s talks looking to resolve this dispute.”
UUK claims that the current pension scheme has a £6 billion deficit.
The employers’ organisation said: “The collective position of employers is that university pensions must be affordable, sustainable and continue to offer a meaningful benefit to staff.”
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