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Special coverage: pensions & researchers

Through the Austrian Chapter, Riccardo Biondi organised a workshop about the RESAVER, the pan-European pension fund for mobile researchers, in 2015, Austria. Here he shares the outcomes of this event, as well as his concerns and reflections about pensions for mobile researchers.

You organised a workshop about RESAVER with Dr Jankowitsch. Why this topic and this guest?

I have been mobile since the beginning of my career. In 15 years I have changed affiliations 7 times in four different countries, all with different pension schemes. I define myself as a freelance researcher and I like to do it, but when I think about my long-term future (aka retirement) I do not see any guarantee. This is the situation for many researchers; even though they are not freelance, they must move around a lot before getting a permanent position. That´s why I chose this particular topic for a workshop. I saw RESAVER as a great opportunity. It will probably not work for me or for my generation, but if we now start sowing the seeds, the next generation will reap the harvest.

Mobility is very important for research but there are several issues to deal with and it seems that policy makers are not interested in solving them. So we must find a solution ourselves. Dr Jankowitsch was the initiator of RESAVER, so the best person to ask about the programme in terms of understanding the present situation and the future. I wanted to know the thinking behind it, and especially to know if the EU and national policy makers were genuinely interested in the programme.

What are the pension challenges facing mobile researchers today?

Moving between different countries means that you apply to different pension schemes, which can´t be combined (at the moment there is no EU coordination). In some countries you must work for a minimum number of years to receive a pension and if you move there just for 2-3 years, your contribution is lost. If they allow you to move the contribution to another country, most of the contribution is re-taxed and the amount that you finally get is really small. Most of the pension contributions are lost along the way. In some cases you can put the money in your pocket (with higher taxation) but almost nobody uses it for creating a pension. The first challenge is the simplest … to get a pension! Other challenges are:
getting correct information about pension schemes and finding officials able to support you.

What are the most common questions from researchers on pensions?

From my experience, not many researchers, especially when they are young, think about pensions. But those who do ask:

  • Can I move the contributions to another country?
  • If I leave the contributions here, will I get a pension from this country?
  • Can I get a pension from two (or more) countries?
  • Is there any way to merge my contributions into one respectable pension?

Do you think that researchers are well-informed about their pension?

Not at all! I have never received any information about my pension scheme from any countries in which I worked unless I went to the relevant office to ask. Also, I did not understand my options very well, because the short stays experienced by researchers is something quite rare and not many officials are familiar with the issues involved.

Research institutes are usually not prepared for that and they do not know anything about pensions, so send you to the national offices. I believe that only a really small percentage of researchers are even thinking about this issue, mostly because they already have enough problems to think about (e.g. finding a new job, having a family compatible with this life).

How did you organise the workshop and how did it go?

If I remember well, I saw an advertisement for RESAVER in a Facebook group managed by the EU Community (probably the Marie Curie Actions group). I usually read information very carefully when I see something about which I know nothing, and at that time, the word RESAVER was completely unknown to me. The FB post did not say that much about the programme, so I started googling “RESAVER” and even on the EU website there was only a really short and unclear description, but detailed enough to make me curious and to encourage me to go deeper into the subject. The website also contained just one name: Jankowitsch. I decided then to Google him, to read his CV and to find a phone number to call him. From there, the workshop was almost organised in a single day!

Dr Jankowitsch was really kind and gave me some date options. I contacted all the MCAA Austrian Chapter Members to see if they were interested in this workshop, and almost everybody replied very quickly in a positive way. I checked the meeting room availability in my institute, prepared a Doodle within the Chapter and selected the date.

It took some three days to organise the meeting. We also decided to open it up and advertise the meeting to all the interested researchers (not just the MCAA).

The workshop was four hours long, and involved a presentation of the project and discussion/questions time. Administrations from my institute also took part in the workshop as they are the main actors in the programme. Of course there were a lot of questions due to the high interest and due to the fact that the programme was stillin development. It was very interesting, we discussed it during the following annual Chapter meeting as well for those that could not participate in the workshop. But the way it works, based on institutes’ voluntary involvement, raised some concerns on possible feasibility.

What do you expect to happen in the future on researcher pensions?

I do not see much interest in this topic among policy makers, and most young researchers are more concerned about their work and about their present and immediate future than thinking about long-term perspectives. They will probably become aware of the problem (as usual) when it becomes reality for them.

Researcher mobility was not considered that important until 15-20 years ago, so most researchers are still receiving pensions within usual schemes at the moment. In 20 years or so, when the first mobile researchers start having serious problems with their pensions, someone will maybe start to think about it, but it will be too late.

RESAVER could be a good option, with some adjustment. It is a voluntary scheme (for the institutes) and this will never work for several reasons. Instead it should become one option among others for the researchers. Another good option would be to recognise the option for researchers to be freelance; we could then decide ourselves how to manage our money.

I´m young enough to hope and old enough to know that I will never get a serious pension so I just apply my own rules to managing my salary: live with half and save the remaining for the future.