“Join us and you will travel around the world, they said…”
(Roman soldier after being beaten by Asterix, Asterix and the Twelve Tasks)
Hunting for postdoctoral experiences, faculty positions and funding opportunities abroad is an increasingly essential part of the academic game. International mobility in research is particularly encouraged in the European Union, as a main policy goal of the European Research Area and related grant programs. While trying to conquer the (academic) world, pensions are rarely amongst the first concerns that come to mind for an early career researcher. However, whilst pension issues may seem distant and remote, they can crash down on you when you least expect them. Thus, there is no better period to think about our life as elderly people than when we are younger.
It is clear that working in countries as different as those participating in the EU can be a significant problem for our pension plans. Researchers face huge issues in maintaining their occupational pension benefits when moving between different countries as pension systems and policies are the responsibility of EU Member States and each one sets its own criteria for entitlement. The coordination of pension and social security schemes in the EU and European Free Trade Association (EFTA) countries is based on general principles that do not replace national systems and each country’s criteria must be satisfied in order to benefit from a pension entitlement.
What are the three main types of pension scheme an early career researcher can encounter across Europe? There are public pensions, which have been a key target of the structural reforms and budgetary restraints introduced during the past ten years; occupational pensions (in which the employer allocates a percentage of the salary to a pension fund to which the employee will have access at retirement age); and, lastly, as the third pillar, there are private pensions, in which the worker’s savings are invested in common funds to complement future pensions.
Combinations of these three types of pension schemes, each one subjected to specific rules and criteria, create significant problems for mobile researchers in Europe. To overcome these issues, the European Commission has supported a consortium of employers to create a single European pension fund, RESAVER (which stands for Retirement Savings Vehicle for European Research Institutions) established in July 2016 for the whole European Economic Area (EEA). RESAVER is a multi-country and multi-employer occupational pension fund, specifically tailored to ensuring continuity of the accumulation of pension benefits for mobile researchers moving between organizations and countries during their career. The potential of RESAVER relies foremost on the number of employers that join the RESAVER Consortium. As of 2019, the RESAVER Consortium involves 24 institutions in 12 EEA countries.
The first main challenge for Eurodoc is thus to contribute to the spread and enhancement of the RESAVER scheme across European countries and research institutions, proactively collaborating with the European Commission in such an effort. Secondly, Member States’ governments should be encouraged to set harmonized rules among national pension treatments for researchers and PhD candidates, so as to create a more uniform ‘playing field’ complementing the researchers’ mobility across countries. In particular, European grants and funding programs, like the Marie Skłodowska-Curie (MSCA) fellowships and the European Research Council (ERC) grants, should be linked to provisions to ensure that the researcher will benefit from pension entitlements resulting from his/her work in the host countries.
To tackle the problem at its roots, we recommend including the proper coordination and harmonization of occupational pension schemes across the EU in the as-of-yet uncompleted European Pillar of Social Rights. This can help to couple the principle of workers’ mobility across the Single Market with their right to benefit from a high salary, social security, and pension standards. As an organization representing all early career researchers in Europe, Eurodoc would be eager to (re)open such a crucial discussion.
Giuseppe Montalbano, Eurodoc Pension Officer