Felicity Callard Profile picture
Mar 5, 2018 33 tweets 26 min read Twitter logo Read on Twitter
In case you haven't yet read @gailfdavies' fantastic tweets on the role of consultants in embedding a particular vision of 'flexible retirement' as the norm in universities, start with tweet below & then follow the tweets -- & links -- to the present #ucustrike #ussstrike
Inspired by @gailfdavies & @CLIVEYB's reflections, I've been thinking about how to understand the last decade or so in terms of discourses & practices around risk, collectivity, flexibility etc. in relation to university pensions #notallgeographers #USSstrike #ucustrike 1/
I've been tracking through the docs on pensions available on Universities UK website. Oldest document appears to be "Strategic enquiry into the pension arrangements for the higher education sector" published 2007 universitiesuk.ac.uk/policy-and-ana… 2/ #ussstrike #ucustrike
This reported a consultation with HE institutions. (Incidentally, it was carried out by Hewitt Associates, "a top three benefits consultancy in the UK and the largest global provider of complete human resource solutions".) It covered a range of areas. #ucustrike #ussstrike
As well as questions on "cooperation or competition" (Qu. 4), there was a question on risk sharing (Qu. 14) #ucustrike #ussstrike
The report says that this question received the "most startling response" of all the 20 questions. And here are the results #ucustrike #ussstrike
So in October 2007, it was 'startling' (at least for Hewitt for Universities UK) that across the Russell Group/1994 Group/Campaigning for Mainstream Universities etc. there was such consistency on moving towards 'risk sharing'. #ucustrike #ussstrike
I infer there must have been heterogeneity in the discourse around pensions. Hewitt was expecting more than 1 HE institution to endorse the status quo (where 'all of the inherent risks associated with pension provision fall to the institutions') #ucustrike #ussstrike
But look at those 3 zeros at the 'counterpoint' end: it's not just the 'pure' defined contribution option that was, then, anathema for those filling out the consultation #ucustrikes #USSstrike
While a lot of rather big things happened economically & politically btw October 2007 & today, we need to explain (in order to combat) the really big shift to ideological convergence around DC pensions in space of a decade #ucustrike #ussstrike
So the next report is "Pension provision in the higher education sector: initial report" (prepared by an actuary and director of an independent trustee company). It comes out in June 2008 (i.e. shortly before the banking crisis) universitiesuk.ac.uk/policy-and-ana…
This report makes it clear that money purchase provision (DC schemes) is off the table, since there is "little [university] employer appetite for such a large-scale transfer of risk to the members" #ucustrike #ussstrikes
Things then go quiet on the Universities UK website in terms of pension reports. USS is radically redesigned in 2011 and we are now moving towards the total closure of the final salary pension in 2015. #ussstrike #ucustrike
The next Universities UK pensions document I can locate is a consultation paper issued some time in 2014 #ucustrike #USSstrike ox.ac.uk/sites/files/ox…
This consultation provides updates following a previous UUK consultation on USS's future funding (which concluded March 2014). [I can't locate this consultation.] It mentions the commissioning of Aon Hewitt to advise on potential benefit reform options #ucustrike #ussstrike
Aon Hewitt identified potential benefit packages (extension of Career Revalued Benefit (CRB) scale for all members, hybrid model incorporating career average & defined contribution (DC) elements, and single DC scheme), which UUK reviewed (p.3) #ucustrike #ussstrike
Universities UK in the consultation recommend the hybrid model, & make clear the there is only luke-warm support for a DC scheme. Though they do note a 'significant minority' of institutions [which ones?] that endorsed move to DC in earlier UUK consultation #ucustrike #ussstrike
So in 2014 -- well into the never-ending aftermath of the 2008 economic crisis -- there is no ideological coherence in the universities sector around the need for a move to DC (and away from the by-then dominant assumption that risk should be shared) #ucustrike #USSstrike
We now need to turn to what @gaildavies has already unearthed on the UCEA site -- specifically the June 2015 event: "Pensions in 2015 and beyond – a shifting landscape" ucea.ac.uk/en/seminars/ev… #ucustrike #ussstrike
It looks as though this event -- where one of the key presentation is Aon Hewitt's "DC v DB: what the public understands" -- might well have helped shift a previously strong DB orientation in & around universities (see @gailfdavies's tweets on this) #ucustrike #ussstrike
By the time we reach "Suitability & sustainability: pensions in the higher education sector" (published August 2017), all rhetorical guns are firing for DC #Ucustrike #ussstrike universitiesuk.ac.uk/policy-and-ana…
We are informed that while 'offering a DB scheme is not uncommon in universities around the world, many ... are DC only. For example, the top universities in the United States predominantly offer DC pension arrangements.' (p.13) #ucustrike #USSstrike
There are 60 instances of "flex". And no surprise as to how the term flexibility shifts around. [I mean, the social sciences have been studying this for decades.] Look at how it's embedded as a central desire amongst both employers and (some) employees #ucustrike #ussstrike
Particularly insidious is the way in which 'low to moderate earners' and 'those in the early stages of their career' (#precariat, anyone?) are positioned discursively as supporting the need for a shift away from DB #ucustrike #ussstrike
Fav sentence in this document -- and notice the verb *CHOOSE* #precariat #ussstrike #ucustrike
The sole evidence provided to back up that claim (see p.29 of report) is -- #facepalm -- Price Waterhouse Coopers' "Millennials at Work: Reshaping the Workplace", which I shall leave braver souls than I to look through pwc.de/de/prozessopti… #ucustrike #ussstrike
So where have we got to? In 10 yrs, there was a profound ideological shift from final salary to shared risk (DB) to DC pensions. Key year appears to be 2015 (& 2016?). But as a social scientist, I'm still puzzling over how best to account for this #ucustrike #ussstrike
Searching for #socsci literature that might help, I came across this (sorry: #paywall), which tries to account for why DB schemes in the UK suddenly declined #ucustrike #ussstrike
While I'm not convinced by a lot of the theoretical apparatus in this article, I'm intrigued by their focus on the role & importance of consultancies (e.g. see p. 779)
The article suggests that -- in a situation where those making the decisions about pension funds often are often not that knowledgeable about them -- the advice of consultants can be particularly effective in generating what then becomes a herd mentality #ucustrike #ussstrike
[An aside: Geographers might be curiously interested in this sentence, and its reference (#historyofgeography #recursive)] #ussstrike #ucustrike
So, while the Bridgen & Meyer article is interesting, I think we as #geographers & other social scientists can do (and undoubtedly have done) much better in explaining what's going down #ucustrike #ussstrike
Time to sign off (remembering cutting my teeth as an economic geographer) & to call out to the many fab economic geographers/pol economists, incl. @alisonstenning @JanePollard13 @bceagle71 @_paullangley. Huge thanks to @gailfdavies #notallgeographers

#ucustrike #ussstrike

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More from @felicitycallard

Oct 2, 2018
Given importance of HE sector "there may be a case for future governments to consider alternative options" (incl "state-backed guarantee" or "measures enabling more risk-taking"). Powerful piece from @JMariathasan on #USS DB debate post-#JEP ipe.com/analysis/blogs… #USSstrike 1/
Article argues that central problem lies in regulatory changes that transformed management of a DB pension scheme into "a risk management problem, not an investment one" 2/
Read 4 tweets
Sep 22, 2018
Thank you to @EricRoyalLybeck & all the other organisers in Exeter, as well as @ExeterUCU: Volunteer University Revisited was such a magical day. Gathering all of our energies for the months & years to come #YesVolUniCan 1/
Particularly magical to meet some people in the flesh for the first time -- incl. @thetroutpouts @lizmorrish @TheGraceK @sstroschein2 Mike Finn, Alison Wood, @ProfAlastair @ms_rhian @NoisyBits 2/
So many ideas for ways forward. So many kinds of expertise being bought to bear on what now, how, for universities as a community. Also so many testifying to violence, intimidation, threats to academic freedom – & of particular subjects being of course more exposed 3/3
Read 4 tweets
Sep 16, 2018
There's a bonanza of new FOI responses that give us a much better sense of the range of university responses to #UUK #USS consultations from Oct 2016 and Feb/March 2017. Picking through them it's fascinating to see which universities challenged the direction of travel 1/
e.g. Aberdeen: "Aon ... & UCU have indicated that it may be advantageous to consider other models. We are interested in the Trustees views as to whether there are alternative models that could result in a more considered outcome" whatdotheyknow.com/request/508696… cc @aberdeen_ucu 2/
e.g. LSE: "We note that the latest benefit changes were implemented less than 12 months ago. The School’s view is that it is too soon for further changes to be made." whatdotheyknow.com/request/509128… 3/
Read 6 tweets
Sep 16, 2018
So with the publication of the #JEP, the issue of UUK consultations with employer institutions is back big time. Both the famous Sept 2017 survey – and now the possibility, if JEP recommendations are taken up, of UUK reassessing employers' appetite for risk.

I'm worried. 1/
#JEP has emphasised the problems with how UUK framed the questions. What's really obvious if you look back Sept survey is that all the focus is on risk and on a *reduction to benefits*. And NOT on the potential to increase contributions. Or on amending the technical provisions 2/
You can see the structure of the questions here, in Nottingham's response (one of the institutions that wanted less risk): whatdotheyknow.com/request/440685… 3/
Read 18 tweets
Sep 15, 2018
2. #JEP has a lot to say about Test 1. Its sentence 'The view of the Panel is that Test 1 is not well understood outside of USS' is ... well ... certainly marvellously diplomatic.

Cf. and 6/
3. #JEP's discussion of #USS's & #UUK's 'differing perspectives' on the shift from Sept to Nov valuation shows just how murky the deliberations that resulted in this shift still are.

This remains a big issue, given #JEP proposal to reassess employers' atttude to risk (p. 45) 7/ Extract from p. 45 of JEP report
4. #JEP agrees w many of us that UUK's 'framing' of questions around risk in their consultations has serious consequences.

How can we be confident that any future assessment of employers' risk appetite by UUK shows an improvement in their use of social scientific methods? 🧐 8/
Read 13 tweets
Sep 15, 2018
After a few weeks away from Twitter, I'm back to think – alongside many others – about content & rhetoric of the #JEP.

And abt what we at @USSbriefs have been doing all summer w @OpenUPP2018 to encourage deliberations over #USS valuation to take place in public #USSstrike 1/
Many (incl. @NJSHardy @gailfdavies @DrJoGrady @etymologic @MikeOtsuka) have already provided cogent analyses of the #JEP report & its implications. So here I'll just going to pick out some of what has struck me most forcefully on a first read. #USSstrike 2/
1. There's a judicious use of rhetoric – particularly around 'confidence', '(mis)understanding' & 'communication'. This cleaves closely to that used by #UUK & Bill Galvin – whether that is deliberately so as to increase likelihood of acceptance by those parties, you can decide 3/
Read 5 tweets

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