Edi VP describes ‘larger than expected surplus’ from lecturers’ pensions as ‘fantastic news’

The UCU has described Gavin McLachlan’s comments as an example of the uni putting profit over people

Gavin McLachlan, Vice Principal of the University of Edinburgh, has described a “larger than expected surplus” resulting primarily from savings made through lecturers’ pensions as “fantastic news”.

The comments were made during a presentation about the uni’s finances during the last academic year where he detailed how the uni made a financial surplus – despite the pandemic.

He also cited greater numbers of students and a “covid underspend” as other reasons for uni spending less money than it raised.

The Edinburgh Universities and Colleges Union (UCU) that represents academic staff, including lecturers, has described the comments as: “An insult to the countless lecturers, tutors, and professional services staff who have been working late nights and long weekends to keep the University running during Covid-19”.

In the presentation, the VP identified savings made through the USS pensions scheme as the main source of savings. This is a controversial change to lecturers’ pensions that the UCU has been challenging through several rounds of strike action since 2019.

They claim some academics could lose up to 35 per cent of their total pension pot if the changes to pensions are pushed through.

Ballots for a fourth round of strike action in four years amongst Edinburgh academics close tomorrow.

McLachlan said during his presentation that the uni had funds saved in case the ongoing negotiations over pensions meant individual unis had to contribute more.

He said: “We thought we would have to contribute a lot more money to the USS pension scheme, we thought the negotiations would drag on for quite some time. But things are looking quite positive there now. And the money that we put aside to use against the expected issue in USS may not all have to be used now.”

Before adding: “Which is, of course, fantastic news”.

Both the UCU and individual Edi academics are unhappy with the VPs comments, with many taking to Twitter to express their anger.

One tweet read: “Strike. Strike during marking. No one gets a degree until this gets fixed”, while another user tweeted: “Fantastic news for bosses’ bank balances. Precarious retirement for the rest of us. Vote of action: 4 x YES. #OneOfUsAllOfUs“.

When The Edinburgh Tab spoke to the UCU, they told us they thought McLachlan’s comments were “frankly callous and shocking”.

“Our members are facing up to 35 per cent cuts to their pensions under the current USS proposals. Let’s be perfectly clear, these pensions are deferred wages and every worker deserves dignity in retirement.

“It is frankly callous and shocking that Vice Principal Gavin McLachlan would describe cuts that USS are imposing as ‘fantastic news’.  The fact that management are celebrating a ‘larger than expected surplus’ off the back of drastic pension cuts is an insult to the countless lecturers, tutors, and professional services staff who have been working late nights and long weekends to keep the University running during Covid-19.

“It’s telling, too, that McLachlan lists underspending on Covid as another reason for higher profit margins, since we’ve been told since the pandemic began that there’s no money to extend contracts for casualised staff, fund student support services, or tackle pay inequality.

“Members have made their frustration with their employer’s decision to put profit over people perfectly clear in their responses to McLachlan’s comments and we’re confident that we’ll be sending a strong message to UCEA and UUK after balloting for strike action. ”

A spokesperson for the University of Edinburgh said: “The University recognises how important pension arrangements are for staff as part of overall remuneration.

“We wish to see a resolution to the current UK-wide dispute over the USS pension fund which will deliver a pensions package which staff see as attractive and which remains affordable and sustainable both for individuals and universities.”

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