Penalized for Being Mobile? National Pension Schemes as an Obstacle to
Mobility for Researchers in the European Higher Education Area
Official Bologna-Seminar hosted by the German Rectors’ Conference
Berlin, 12-13 June 2008
Summary of Proceedings by the General Rapporteurs
Professor Louise Ackers and Dr Liz Oliver, University of Liverpool
The goal of creating a knowledge-based economy and a European Research Area (ERA)
have received ever increasing attention. The EU-wide discussion on the Lisbon Agenda
reveals a growing awareness of the fact that research and researchers – whether in the
private sector or at publicly funded universities and research facilities – represent the
heart of Europe‟s future competitiveness. Improving the attractiveness of research careers and promoting mobility, not only within
the ERA, but also throughout the extended European Higher Education Area (EHEA), are
widely viewed as the requirements for successfully developing excellent teaching and
research in Europe. The importance of mobility was emphasised by the 46 Bologna
ministers in their London Communique (May 2007) as well as by the Members of the EU
Competitiveness Council (Internal market, Industry and Research) in Brussels
(23.11.2007). The Report of the ERA Expert Group „Realising a single market for researchers‟ (2008) further stresses the importance of mobility identifying „policy
options‟ to ensure „more attractive careers for researchers and to progressively eliminate
the obstacles hampering their mobility‟ (p7).
This report identifies the relationship that exists between the attractiveness of research
careers, the importance of mobility and the demand for „researcher-friendly social
security and supplementary pension systems‟.
Growing awareness of these relationships and, more specifically concerns that issues
associated with pensions may hamper mobility and that mobility may generate serious
problems for mobile researchers‟ pensions status encouraged the HRK to host an official
Bologna Seminar. This seminar followed the 2007 London Conference and anticipated
the 2009 Leuven/Louvain-la-Neuve Minister Conference.
The seminar, “Penalized for Being Mobile? National Pension Schemes as an Obstacle to
Mobility for Researchers in the European Higher Education Area” took place in June
2008. It was attended by 110 European experts from universities, mobility centres,
national and regional governments, the European Commission and representatives of
private pension schemes.
The seminar included a review of selected case studies and recent research evidence
illustrating the impact of on-going academic mobility on pensions status. A series of
working groups then provided the opportunity for participants to raise concerns and
discuss policy options.
This short report provides an overview of the key issues discussed at the Seminar and the
policy implications of these. Discussions focused not only on substantive issues and the
policy implications of these but also on the process of change. It also sought to carefully
contextualise this within a sound understanding of the dynamics of research careers. The
report is therefore organised into three broad sections:
1. Defining the ‘Problem’
2. Supporting Effective and Evidence-based Policy-Making Processes
3. Identifying Policy Options
‘Problem’ Definition and ‘Causation’
Effective policy-making demands a clear understanding of the phenomena in question.
Many of the issues discussed relate not to the technical matters of preserving and
transferring accrued pensions rights but more broadly to the nature of employment,
working conditions and career development within universities.
The following section distinguishes causal factors linked to the nature of scientific
employment from more 'pension specific issues'.
The Employment Context
The following „characteristics of research careers were identified by participants as key
factors shaping engagement with supplementary pensions schemes (and investment for
retirement more generally):
? The extended ‘pre-employment’ qualification period,
The extended „pre-employment‟ qualification period, including the first degree and a
Masters delays the opportunity to engage with pensions schemes (contribute). In some
countries where degrees have been shorter (such as the UK, for example) this might delay
possible contribution until the age of 21 or 22; in other countries (such as Germany or
Portugal, for example) graduates are often older. This level of diversity can be expected
to change with the development of the Bologna Process.
? Employment Insecurity
High levels of employment insecurity, including the use of fixed-term contracts
particularly on externally-funded post-doctoral positions inhibit „voluntary‟ contributions.
Uncertainty over future career and whether or where they will secure permanent
employment generally discourages engagement with voluntary schemes.
A number of more specific dimensions of employment status include:
? non-taxable/insurable „student‟ status for doctoral researchers in some national
contexts extends the ‘pre-employment’ qualification period for a further 3 or 4
years delaying contributions
? the use of distinctive non-taxable/insurable „fellowship‟ status especially in 1 international and mobility post-doctoral fellowships delays contributions
? privileged „civil service‟ status for established researchers providing secure
pension rights and generous employer contributions inhibits mobility.
? Low remuneration
Low remuneration in research careers, relative to careers demanding similar
qualifications and experience, coupled with high living costs in research locations
(especially in global cities) restricts the affordability of supplementary pensions. In such
contexts pensions are relatively low priority in comparison with accommodation, living
costs and childcare (for example).
• Mobility Patterns and Career Progression
The specific emphasis placed on mobility in career progression systems, results in on-
going, repeated and often geographically diverse forms of mobility. Unlike other forms of
mobility (such as corporate mobility for example) researchers are primarily engaged in
self initiated moves and relatively unsupported moves (between jobs rather than with
They are usually moving as public sector employees.
• Grant Funding
The nature of research funding and its relationship with working conditions ( security and
remuneration, for example) requires the involvement of all stake-holders (including
research funders). In the case of such externally-funded positions (typical of post-docs), it
is often difficult to pin down where financial and corporate responsibility for pension
provision lies (with the funders or employers).
The extent and nature of these factors (pre-qualification, insecurity, pay, mobility patterns
and funding mechanisms) reflects the quality of career progression systems and working
conditions which vary significantly between countries, institutions, sectors and
Pensions Specific ‘Problems’
These general features of research careers in some cases prevent and in others deter
membership of statutory and supplementary schemes.
The Seminar also identified more specific factors related to the operation of
supplementary schemes themselves. These included:
1 Participants were alerted to the fact that legislation is currently in place to promote the non-
discrimination principle. These provisions could be actively promoted to prevent institutions
developing specific schemes, with limited social obligations and responsibilities, targeted at non-
? Marked complexity and diversity in the organisation of pensions systems (national,
regional and institutional) contributing to information deficits.
? Marked and continued diversity in the predicted purchasing power of pensions (in
the context of mobility)
? Declining trust in statutory and supplementary pension schemes and the
predictability of returns on ‘investments’
? Extensive ‘vesting’ periods deterring entry into and limiting the value of 2 contributions
Supporting Effective and Evidence-based Policy-Making Processes
The question of how best to develop policy or to promote action in this area was seen as
key to a successful outcome. The following issues were identified:
There was a consensus that, where possible, full and imaginative use should be made of
using existing legal and policy mechanisms (at least at this stage) rather than „re-
inventing the wheel‟ or engaging in more radical developments which may generate their
? Partnership and Shared Responsibility
A strong consensus also emerged supporting the need to fully engage with all stake-
holders, agencies and individual researchers in order to ensure comprehensive and
The European Commission within its current Communication to the European Council
and the European Parliament “Better careers and more mobility: A European Partnership
for Researchers” (23.05.2008), proposes a partnership with the Member States. This
partnership is designed to promote a number of actions that have been identified as
priorities including meeting the social security and supplementary pension needs of
mobile researchers. These efforts therefore have to be considered in this context. The
partnership approach offers the opportunity for close cooperation in the framework of
the European Research Area and the European Higher Education Area concepts. The
Communication invites Member States to adopt national action plans setting out specific
objectives and activities.
Relevant stake-holders were identified as including:
? The employers of researchers (universities and research institutes)
? The funders of research contracts (research funders)
2 This was highlighted as a problem in the German context specifically but not exclusively
? Bodies representing researchers (social partners and the European Universities
Association, for example)
? Pensions providers (in the statutory and private sectors)
? Individual researchers themselves
Shared responsibility and effective engagement with all stake-holders was also seen as
essential to the promotion of joined-up thinking – both horizontally within the European
Commission and National Governments and vertically to ensure dialogue between all the
actors involved at these different „levels‟ (European, National, Regional (Federal)
? Evidence-based Policy
Participants were acutely aware of the risk associated with policy interventions.
Full engagement of stake-holders to support effective participatory planning is
one means of avoiding policy externalities („collateral damage‟) and ensuring that
policy delivers in the way it is intended and meets the needs of researchers.
Effective policy-making also rests on sound evidence. This process can be
significantly aided by careful research and sensitive forms of ex-ante impact
The emphasis in such research endeavours should be on assessing the views of
individual researchers in order to promote individual autonomy and agency and
informed decision-making (see below).
? Simplicity and Transparency
One of the biggest concerns expressed by all parties was complexity and
awareness. This lead to a recommendations that any policy interventions should
seek to reduce complexity and support clarity and certainty.
Using Current Initiatives and Policy Momentum as the Vehicles for Change
As noted above, there was a strong sense that it was better to utilise existing opportunities
and work with current policy agenda and momentum. This reflects both a sense of
pragmatism but, more importantly, a concern that many of the causal factors identified as
shaping the relationship between mobility and pensions reflect more general
characteristics of research careers.
Researchers are often moving between positions out of necessity rather than choice and
these positions are often unattractive. On that basis a strong mainstreaming element
would improve the position of all researchers, especially at early career stage and support
all forms of mobility.
The Commission Communication on a European partnership for researchers flagged up
the importance of attractive employment and working conditions for researchers in the
EU (COM(2008)317 final).
The Researchers’ Charter and the Code of Conduct for the Employment of
The Charter and Code were designed to improve the attractiveness of research careers. They are a core constituent of the European Research Area Process. As such the measures proposed constitute a vehicle to support the mainstreaming of researchers‟
employment rights, working conditions and career progression systems.
This policy initiative promises greatest impact in terms of the factors identified in Section 1 ((pre-qualification periods, insecurity, pay, mobility patterns and their relationship with career progression systems and funding mechanisms).
Improving the quality of employment in early career research would increase the financial autonomy of researchers and encourage them to exercise independent and informed decision-making (and be able to afford to action it). Advances in this wider arena would reduce the need for more paternalistic or prescriptive policies or „special‟ measures.
Participants were also keen to utilise the opportunities generated by the Bologna Process (and the development of the Common European Higher Education Area) to advance these more general issues and extend them to a wider group of countries
In the longer term, participants were keen to encourage policy-makers to situate policy in the field of pensions within a wider commitment to the improvement of social security and working conditions for all researchers.
Supporting Informed Decision-Making and the Exercise of Agency
Information deficits were identified as perhaps on of the greatest problems facing researchers who move between jobs, between sectors and between countries.
Even if the quality of research careers increased, the financial viability of pensions, researchers would need significantly improved information and advice to mitigate the 3 impact of mobility on pensions and support sustainable mobility.
The European Commission has called for more accurate information on the implications of moving between jobs, countries and sectors for researchers. It specifically identifies the need for more targeted information on pensions as one of the proposed priority actions:
“Commission and Member States [need] to ensure that researchers and their employers have access to readily available and targeted information on the application of EU social security rules and on the implications for supplementary pensions of transnational mobility, including through improving existing sources at EU and national level such as the EUlisses website” (COM(2008)317 final: 8)
3 Better information on pensions not only promotes mobility but also, critically aid return moves
At the present time researchers suffer from a lack of accurate, reliable, co-ordinated and
comprehensible information and advice. Many researchers imply do not understand the
pensions situation and are unable to assess the impact of moving on their future financial
status in retirement.
Participants were clear that providing more information or more information providers, in
itself, will not solve the problem. Researchers need sound financial education to promote
awareness of the importance of pensions.
One suggestion was that pension issues become part of doctoral training and/or
Pensions advice is a complex issue and derives from a range of sources including:
? Mobility Centres 4? On-line, internet, advisory systems
? Research Funding Bodies
? Higher Education Institutions [HEIs] (including a disparate range of potential
source such as human resource departments; international or European offices,
research units and higher degree offices)
? Pensions Providers
? Dedicated centres to support mobile researchers (such as the Foundation in
France researchers (Vincent de Graauw – add full name of institution)
? Where affordable, independent financial advisors.
Participants agreed on the degree of complexity and diversity and the need for improved
co-ordination but there were different opinions on where the main locus of activity should
be. Some argued for a strengthening of Mobility Centres to enable them to give direct
advice to researchers.
This „option‟ was felt by others to be of limited value, however given the fact that
mobility centres may be located some distance from institutions, personnel at these
centres may lack adequate training on pensions. Furthermore, the recognition that
pensions issues reflected more general characteristic of research careers and affected all
forms of mobility (between jobs, sectors, regions and countries) supported a more
mainstreamed approach that placed direct responsibility on the institutions responsible for
the employment of researchers.
This approach runs less of a risk of marginalising the needs of geographically mobile
early career researchers and encourages institutions to ensure that all their staff,
irrespective of contractual status are treated equally.
Participants felt that while many bodies within universities had a responsibility for
researchers (including for example international offices or research finance offices) the
„proper‟ location for this kind of information and advice to be provided is within the main
body of institutions‟ human resource function.
4 Participants called for better use of existing structures such as ERAMore/Euraxess and EUlisses
Institutional Human Resource Departments were identified as the optimal conduit for
information flows and the „natural‟ body to interface directly with individual researchers
and provide carefully tailored, personal advice (as they do for most permanent academic
staff). This may require additional training and the provision for dedicated staff
specialised in pensions.
This does not take the pressure off other agencies. Indeed there was strong concern that
Mobility Centres should be enabled to provide better information. Pension providers
should issue information packages in different languages and help to organise the training
of institutional human resources experts.
A „cascade‟ system was considered to improve the flows of information and apportion
responsibility more effectively.
Proposed Information Cascade
Pensions Research Mobility
Providers Funders Centres
Other Institutional Human institutional Resource Departments actors
Independent The Financial Individual Advisors Researcher
New Pensions Products?
Many participants expressed some surprise that pensions providers both in the
supplementary and private sectors had not exercised greater initiative in developing more
innovative and flexible pensions products tailored to the needs of an increasingly mobile 5knowledge economy – and the flexible labour markets associated with this.
5 The European Commission's Communication on Flexicurity identifies new forms of social security
provision as a component of flexicurity, “Modern social security systems that provide adequate income
support, encourage employment and facilitate labour market mobility, Communication from the
Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and
Once again this type of initiative needs to be underpinned by sound research on consumer behaviour and career contexts.
Whilst many participants placed an emphasis on the role of private providers in this area, others expressed disappointment at the reluctance of existing supplementary pensions providers to respond to the needs of the wider population of researchers (rather than the needs of staff in traditional permanent positions).
One idea shared by participants was to place a responsibility on research funders (in the main) to provide ear-marked „top-up‟ support for pensions purposes only as a component 6 or „remuneration package.‟ of the „compensation‟
A National Pensions Register?
Participants considered the idea of creating a tool for surveying national pension rights through a National Pension Register.
This tool could be developed for teaching and research staff as a pilot group. The register would consist of a data bank and a user friendly, internet based application that could be accessed by mobile staff with a password at any time to receive reliable information on pension rights.
7A Pan-European Pensions Scheme for Mobile Researchers?
Participants discussed the concept of setting-up a European pension fund for researchers (for supplementary pensions) based on the IORP Directive of the European Council and the European Parliament of 2003. Such a fund could potentially ease the situation of mobile scientists as they would have only one institution to communicate with in regard to their occupational pensions until they reach their pension age.
The fund would coordinate different payments of pension according to the national rules and tax regulations.
There was some concern over how this might work in practice and how it would interface with existing (compulsory and/or employer subsidised schemes).
the Committee of the Regions 'Towards Common Principles of Flexicurity: more and better jobs through flexibility and security', COM(2007) 359 final adopted 27 June 2007).
6 The concept of compensation is widely used in mobile careers in the private and NGO sector to provide incentives for certain forms of mobility. 7 In the context of the elements of „causation‟ discussed above (Section 1) participants discussed whether it was possible and justifiable to distinguish research careers from other forms of employment-related mobility and afford researchers „special treatment‟.
In conclusion, participants felt that although research careers had special features (described above in Section 1), other mobile knowledge workers often face similar issues. It was also important to remember that researchers also work in the private sector, in industry, and care needs to be taken not to discourage this form of inter-sectoral mobility by distinguishing academic researchers.
A European Commission document, for example, notes that participating in a pan
European pension scheme would “require the possibility of opting out where researchers
are obliged to participate in a domestic pension fund by law” (COM(2008)317 final: 7)
Further Research to support evidence-based policy-making
Participants encouraged further research placing responsibility on all stake-holders to
support such work.
Once again there was concern that any research should be taken in partnership rather than
Two specific suggestions were mooted:
1. The first was specifically concerned to design and evaluate a feasibility study to
assess the potential of a pan-European pensions scheme (above).
2. The second represented a more general desire to support evidence-based ex-ante
policy-making through the funding of a larger cross-national study.