07 Jan 2015   |   News

European Commission launches international pension scheme for researchers

Allowing academics to move their pensions from country-to-country when taking up jobs at institutions across the EU has broad support. But there is a swathe of technical and legal detail to sort out and universities need to sign up

The European Commission has announced a European Union-wide pension fund that aims to make re-location for academics easier and financially more attractive.

Resaver - the Retirement Savings Vehicle for European Research Institutions, proposes that employees maintain a single pension plan, keeping their benefits as they move between countries and institutions.

The initial costs of the fund, €4 million, are being covered by the European Commission. A four year contract was awarded to the insurance company Aon, which will advise on the scheme. 

The scheme has been a long time in gestation and at yet is limited to the handful of institutions that have signed up to date. These include the Vienna University of Technology, the Association of Universities in the Netherlands and the Elettra Synchrotron in Trieste, Italy.

In countries like the UK, where there are mandatory pension plans for public sector employees, including academics, joining Resaver is not straightforward. For this reason, Cambridge University, while a member of the task force that drew up the plan for the fund, has not officially joined in the scheme.

There are also legal uncertainties in France and Germany. The same applies in Finland. “It’s difficult to change payments to Resaver due to our strict law about retirement funds,” said Tiia Tuomi, Aalto University’s Director of human resources.

The technical and legal detail may already be giving finance and HR teams in universities and research centres headaches, but the scheme will work, believes one of its architects, Paul Jankowitsch, vice rector for finance at the Vienna University of Technology. “An arrangement of this complexity is more often found in multinationals,” he admitted. “But there’s a clear case for doing it.”

Attracting more institutions

While only a few universities have grasped the fund with two hands, the Resaver consortium is nevertheless satisfied the scheme will ripen well in the next six months, once it has been sufficiently explained. Jankowitsch, who will chair the fund, plans to travel the breadth of Europe in 2015 to get word out to scientists. He will host several information seminars (four have taken place already) spread between capital cities. As a result, “There’ll be 20 or 30 new applications by May,” he said.

The Resaver fund will not substitute for state-run pension systems, also known as first pillar pensions, but will provide supplementary benefits financed through employer contributions and private pension plans for individuals, so-called second and third pillar pensions.

Barrier to cross-border recruitment

On reading about Resaver, young postdocs might very well shrug their shoulders. “It’s the advantage and disadvantage of being young,” said Lidia Borrell-Damián, Director of Research and Innovation at the European University Association, who was an observer on the task force setting up the fund. “You do things and don’t think too much about the future.”

Kurt Deketelaere, Secretary-General of the League of European Research Universities, also an observer on the task force, agrees. “Young academics never see pension arrangements as much of an issue or barrier,” he said.

While the prospect of retirement is not something Deketelaere, 48, dwells on very often either, he pointed out that the scheme was more obviously interesting for older academics. 

“When a university in Belgium tries to hire a German chair of macroeconomics, to give you an example, then you may have a problem,” Deketelaere said. A Belgian university might find it hard to match the academic’s offer in Germany, meaning the motivation to move might suffer.

Divergent pension arrangements across Europe have long been an obstacle to cross-border recruitment of scientists, and removing this barrier has been a focus of efforts to create the single European Research Area.

Currently, a researcher moving between countries has to be something of an expert in tax and social welfare issues, said Jankowitsch. “Think of Resaver as a competitive issue. We’ll continue to lose researchers to the US, where there’s single pension plans no matter where you move, if we don’t implement this scheme.”

RESAVER factsheet here
LERU statement here

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