A university professor has submitted a complaint to the Charity Commission about the governance of Universities UK, a registered charity and the trade body for universities.
Universities UK is currently embroiled in an industrial dispute over pensions that has led to lecturers going on strike.
Universities UK wants to change the Universities Superannuation Scheme from a defined benefit scheme, giving members a guaranteed income in retirement, to a defined contribution scheme, where pensions are subject to changes in the stock market because the current scheme has a deficit of more than £6bn.
But staff at 64 universities have said that the changes could cost them an average of £10,000 a year and the Universities and College Union has called strike action.
Bill Cooke, a lecturer at York Management School and member of UCU, said he thinks that Universties UK actions are in conflict with its stated charitable purposes because its aims and objectives are to represent the whole university sector, not just the employers.
In a complaint submitted to the Charity Commission and published online, he said: “UUK is lead adversary against tens of thousands of university lecturers and professional support staff. Yet its mission and Memorandum of Association claims that its purpose is to represent and speak for them and their interests, as member of universities.”
He added that this “seems to me to be inconsistent with charitable purposes”.
Could damage reputation of the charity sector
Cooke said that there were questions over how Universities UK had arrived at a clam that 42 per cent would like the pension trustee to take less risk and called for more transparency about how the body carried out its research.
He also said that the dispute could damage the reputation of the charity sector as a whole.
“Allegations are rife in the public sphere regarding the intentions, behaviour, and competence of this charity generally, and toward those to whom it claims specific responsibility, damages the reputation of the charity sector in the UK as a whole,” he said.
A Charity Commission spokeswoman said: “We can confirm that a complaint about Universities UK has been submitted to the Commission. We will assess the information provided to determine whether the complaint gives rise to regulatory concerns.
“To note, the Commission’s role is to ensure trustees are fulfilling their charity law duties and responsibilities. Beyond this, we cannot get involved in disputes between charities and other parties, even where trustees have made decisions that might be unpopular.”