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If you’re against marketisation then you probably shouldn’t support the strikes

The lecturers have got it all wrong

If there's one thing you're likely to hear about the ongoing UCU strikes, it is that the strikes are about "not all about pensions".

The strikes, we are told, are about the wider "marketisation of higher education" and the efforts by UK universities to make students and staff merely recipients of a service, rather than members of a community united by their belief in education.

However, anyone who claims that the strikes are opposing further "marketisation" of higher education is not telling the whole truth. The strikes began when the Universities' Superannuities Scheme, or USS, decided to change the pension model from 'defined benefit' to 'defined contribution'.

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Clueless about the USS

True, defined contribution will mean smaller pensions, but let's not pretend that going back to defined benefit will prevent the marketisation of higher education. The entire USS depends on the market to give staff their pensions whatever happens.

Anyone who 'opposes marketisation' but supports the strike by definition supports some marketisation – namely, of their staff's pensions. Clearly staff are in favour of marketisation when it suits them, but are against the marketisation of students' futures.

Has anyone bothered to look at what the USS does? If you look at their website, the USS proudly announces that they invest in such diverse businesses as Credit Suisse, Royal Dutch Shell, British American Tobacco and Rio Tinto. This is hardly surprising. The demand for ever-more generous pensions has inevitably led to these investments in companies with questionable ethical concerns.

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Only fools and protesters

For example the Rio Tinto mining company, in which the USS holds a £400m stake, has recently been investigated for tax dodging in Mongolia. The USS has huge stakes in energy companies and, horror of horrors, big pharma. If you were looking at the best example of speculative capitalism, the USS would be it.

You cannot claim to be protesting against global capitalism at the same time as you defend a scheme with mining holdings in Mongolia, or one which invests heavily in fracking. Bristol Fossil Free have been pressuring the university to divest from Barclays because of this. Little do they know, the USS holds a £478m stake in Royal Dutch Shell, their biggest listed equity stake.

Bristol Fossil Free were later seen alongside the Student Staff Solidarity Group occupying Senate House while trying the get Hugh Brady to support the strikes. It seems that when staff's pensions depend on investment in fracking and fossil fuels more generally, Bristol Fossil Free are happy to support them.

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"Fossil free" for USS

I have no problem with staff defending their interests and doing everything in their power to get the best pension they can. University staff's pensions are more generous than almost anything available working in the private sector, and there is a reason for that.

Our lecturers' pensions rest on a speculative, exploitative business model, their money invested in companies they would never consider working for.

One can only conclude that 'Greed is Good', as long as lecturers are the ones being greedy. Time for some honesty.