Accounting by Aslan

May 7, 2015

Your financial health check of universities (“Keep squirrelling away the nuts”, Features, 30 April) showed that the sector reported net assets “excluding pension liabilities” of an impressive £40 billion at July 2014. The financial fairies have obviously taken care of our £5 billion pension liabilities so we needn’t worry. This does, however, make one wonder why we’re paying millions to fund these deficits – and in hard cash, too – if we’re supposed to ignore them in a health check? Perhaps, just maybe, they are real liabilities and shouldn’t be ignored?

What’s worse is that the £5 billion of pension liabilities reported in the sector’s balance sheet excludes the deficit of the Universities Superannuation Scheme, which must be in the Narnia balance sheet, and any call for increased funding must equally be illusory. But fear not, this will all be sorted out in 2015-16, when changes to accounting rules will mean that all our pension liabilities, including those of the USS, will be firmly on our balance sheets – and hopefully you won’t pretend that they don’t exist in future.

Andrew Connolly
Chief financial officer
University of Exeter

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