The first pan-European pension scheme for highly mobile scientists has been launched
The European Commission had identified pensions as a big obstacle for the mobility of researchers in Europe. So it has launched a pilot scheme, designed to facilitate the delivery of a pension fund for highly mobile scientists in Europe. The sheme is called RESAVER, which stands for Retirement Savings Vehicle for European Research Institutions. Following related feasibility studies and workshops, the Commission is now investing €4 million to guide it through its first four years. It should eventually permit scientists to carry a pension pot between countries in the European Economic Area, without disruption. But it will not take the place of state-run pensions. Instead, it will provide supplementary retirement income paid for through employer and individuals’ contributions.
The consortium, which manages RESAVER, was formerly established in October 2014, with seven founding members, from Hungary, the Netherlands, Austria and Italy. These included Elettra Sincrotrone Trieste, the Technical University of Vienna and the Central European University of Budapest. More are expected to join in. “Around 300 institutions have contacted us. In the course of 2015, I expect between 10 and 20 new members of the consortium, with three very close already,” says Paul Jankowitsch, chairman of the board of directors for RESAVER, who is vice-rector for finance at the Vienna University of Technology. Italy’s National Research Council (CNR) is expected to join soon. “We’ve also had some interest from private chemistry companies too.” RESAVER will be open to all organisations with a substantial research element.
In January, UK-based pension consultant Aon Hewitt, was appointed to provide support for this new cross-border pension, which is structured as an IORP in the jargon; which stands for Institutions for Occupational Retirement Provision. “As long as their employers are members, researchers will know that they can join this scheme, which provides consistent benefits across all countries, so you won’t need to get to grips with a local scheme,” explains Jacqueline Lamont, consultant at Aon Hewitt, based in London. It is likely that individuals, as well as employers, will contribute to the scheme in most cases.
Proponents argue that economy of scales will make the scheme competitive and attractive. “Organisations will have access to a best-in-class defined contribution pension fund and they are going to be able to offer this to their employees. By doing that they should be able to attract the best researchers to their organisations,” Lamont says. Jankowitsch predicts RESAVER will compete against local and national pension scheme for members.
And RESAVER needs to be widely adopted for its merits to be felt across Europe. Indeed, if it gains momentum, it will be difficult for employers to ignore. “When a researcher considers moving, knowing an employer has got RESAVER can make it instantly more attractive,” says Lamont.
The pension itself will be run from one country, possibly the UK, Ireland, Luxembourg or the Netherlands, though Belgium looks likely. An investment advisor is to be hired this year, and a RESAVER website will be launched within the next six months.
Mobility no longer penalising pensions
The scheme is not about equalising benefits. It will not allow someone take benefits from a country they have worked in, such as an earlier retirement date. Nonetheless it should fix an unfair quandary that arose when Europe promoted mobility but left individuals in the lurch in terms of pensions. “This is something that all of us researchers who have been quite mobile in Europe have been looking for,” says Luisa de Cola, professor of supramolecular and biomaterial chemistry at the University of Strasbourg in France, adding: “when you change countries it is impossible to transfer the pension.” She lived for 11 years in Italy, 6 years in Netherlands and 7 years in Germany and now works in France. “I wasn’t even able to transfer my pension from Germany to France,” adding that her pension has been left inadequate.
“This is a problem that affects hundreds of scientist. It is a big issue,” she adds. Whether RESAVER will allow pensions to amalgamate under this one new pan-European scheme is a complicated question. There might be an option to transfer funds from an old pension into RESAVE, says Lamont, ‘but that would need to be looked at on a case-by-case basis.”
Another essential component of RESAVER will be country committees. Institutions must still follow social legislation and collective practices in their respective countries. Country specific sections will ensure compliance with local regulations. So far, the Italian committee is the most advanced.
Country variations for retirement
The plan is for nine countries to join the scheme over the next four years. However, there is huge variation in pension regulation between countries. Some countries will find it easier to adopt than others.
In France, for example, full time researchers and professors are civil servants by law, so do not need such a supplementary retirement pension, says Jankowitsch. But not all French researchers are civil servants. Private research institutions are interested in the scheme and the consortium is consulting with the appropriate French ministries. The situation in Germany is more intractable, as it will take legislative changes. Indeed, supplementary retirement pension arrangements are run on a federal basis. This means that even moving pensions within Germany can be tricky.
By contrast, the UK has its own pension for higher education institutes, called USS, and UK universities cannot joint the new scheme. “There has been some interest from the charity sector,” says Idi Seehra research fellow in human resource strategy at the London School of Economics, in the UK, and member of the RESAVER task force. “For universities you can join USS and then if you wish to move to another country you can transfer to RESAVER. Someone might argue that this doesn’t sound so attractive, but that would be a point for institutions to address in future.” Others point to financial difficulties in the USS and believe the UK will likely join.
Evolving pan-Europe pension initiatives
The Belgian-based League of European Research Universities, LERU, provided the Commission with feedback throughout the process and welcomes the initiative. “In theory there are coordination mechanism that are supposed to help researchers with their pension when they move, but in practice it turns out to be difficult,” says Katrien Maes, chief policy officer at LERU, in Leuven. She praises the Commission’s role for cradling the pension scheme. “It’s been a long process, but I think that is to be expected given the complexity of the material we are dealing with. This is a really innovative scheme.”
The Commission itself reckons that something like 30% of all researchers have been mobile for the last 10 years and recognises that these people have run into problems with pensions.
A private pension option—in addition to state pension and supplementary retirement pension—will be available for researchers who work for organisations but do not have employment contracts, such as those receiving grants.
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