Nightmare scenarios

October 2, 2014

Have we learned nothing in the past six years about the difference between mathematical models and the real world? If you put garbage into a mathematical model, you will get garbage out. If you model the long-term viability of the Universities Superannuation Scheme on the ludicrous assumption that all UK universities will go out of business tomorrow, why should anyone listen to you (“Reforms seen as ‘radical attack’ on pensions”, News, 18 September)? Unfortunately, this is exactly what the USS is doing. This is pure mathematics, not economics, and the USS should leave pure mathematics to us pure mathematicians.

Of course you have to keep the nightmare scenario in the back of your mind, but you do not build your entire business model on it. Your business model must be built on prudent but reasonable assumptions, or your business will not survive in the long term.

Ironically, the proposed changes to the USS might actually bring about the nightmare scenario that the USS seems to fear. If, as appears likely, the scheme becomes so unattrac­tive to new members that it becomes viable to set up a rival scheme, then this will eventually happen, and the USS will have dug its own grave.

Robert Wilson
Professor of pure mathematics
Queen Mary University of London

The USS pension “reform” should come as a surprise to no one. It is a continuation of the systematic pillage of workers’ pensions under the mantle of post-crash economic realism that has already taken place across the private sector, and increasingly now the public sector.

And it is part of the more specific project to proletarianise academics to soften up universities for inevitable privatisation down the line. When universities are “let go”, it is likely that many will be bought up by the large for-profit education corporations that control significant parts of the US university sector. Such enterprises demand a proletarianised academic workforce. It is certainly the case that the current “winner takes all” pension scheme rewards some disproportionately, but it is important that people realise quite what is at stake in the battle to defend pensions in which we are about to engage.

Nicholas Till
Leverhulme research fellow
School of Media, Film and Music
University of Sussex

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