The £60bn UK university pension scheme at the centre of a bitter industrial dispute over retirement benefits on Friday claimed that striking academics are being swayed by misinformation.
Bill Galvin, group chief executive of the Universities Superannuation Scheme, expressed concern about inaccurate trade union information, as well as commentary on social media.
His comments come after the University and College Union representing academics and other university workers on Tuesday rejected a proposed settlement to the pension dispute.
Thousands of members of the UCU at 65 higher education institutions have taken strike action over the past four weeks over plans by their employers to shake up the USS by ending defined benefit pensions, which guarantee a secure retirement income.
Universities UK, which represents 350 university employers, has proposed switching staff to less expensive, but riskier, defined contribution pensions.
As union officials prepare for a fresh wave of strikes in April and June, Mr Galvin said he had become increasingly concerned about “false” claims made around the assumptions used by the USS in its valuation of the pension scheme last year.
This valuation found a £6.1bn deficit, which prompted the employers to propose switching members of the USS to defined contribution pensions.
“I have a real concerns that members are being misled by some of the commentary on social media and how some of the issues around the valuation have been portrayed,” said Mr Galvin.
“We have seen material which suggests that this valuation has been done on the basis of [all university] employers going insolvent. This is palpably untrue.”
Mr Galvin has written to Sally Hunt, UCU general secretary, about a union circular which he said made claims that USS had assumed members would live to 147, and would have the effect of pushing up pension costs.
He described the claims as “palpably ridiculous”, adding it “makes me really really worried”.
A spokesperson for the University and College Union said: “This leaflet was not created by national UCU and if it contains incorrect information then we are happy to ask whoever created it to amend.
“USS needs to understand that the huge level of mistrust that exists within universities of them and their role in the current crisis is about much more than a locally-produced flyer.”
Mr Galvin’s intervention comes as Universities UK faces increasing pressure over the contentious pension shake-up, which the UCU claims will leave some lecturers £10,000 a year worse off in retirement.
A group of academics have raised £50,000 to pay for legal advice about what they claim is potential mismanagement by the board of trustees which oversees the USS.
Mr Galvin denied mismanagement, saying the USS was “very well governed”.
Mr Galvin said he would welcome an independent audit of the USS valuation of the scheme, “if it would help people’s confidence in what we have done”, but stressed it would take time.
Meanwhile, Universities UK said it had made informal approach to UCU about restarting talks following the rejection of the proposed settlement, which would involved retaining defined benefit pensions for a transitional period.
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