Defined Benefit  

University staff to vote on new pension proposals

University staff to vote on new pension proposals

Members of the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) will be voting next week on proposals aimed at resolving the current pensions dispute, after University and College Union (UCU) announced it will ballot members.

The proposals, announced on 23 March, are the result of mediation by Acas, and include a guarantee that defined benefit (DB) element of the scheme would be maintained while a joint-expert panel considers the valuation of the pension fund, the union said.

This panel would be comprised of actuarial and academic experts nominated in equal numbers from both sides, and will be commissioned to deliver a report.

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USS is the largest private sector pension scheme in the country.

It has a DB as well as a defined contribution (DC) section, but was due to become a full defined contribution fund under plans published in November by Universities UK (UUK), which represents 350 universities.

According to the scheme annual report, it had a deficit of £12.6bn, with employers and members warned they may need to increase contributions by up to 7 per cent to maintain their current benefits.

However, this shortfall would be reduced to £6.1bn after the implementation of the UUK reform proposals announced in January, which led to industrial action.

At the time, the UCU announced 14 days of strikes across 61 universities to start on 22 February and run over a four-week period.

Sally Hunt, UCU's general secretary, said the latest proposals were won by the solid action of the union's members, and "now is the time for them to have their say on what happens next."

However, the union served notice of strike action at 13 universities to begin on 16 April as part of a fresh wave of industrial action aimed at targeting the last weeks of teaching, and the exam and assessment period.

A spokesperson at UUK said that the creation of the joint-expert panel "will help to build confidence in the valuation process and assumptions".

The spokesperson added: "It will also give time to pause, to reflect and to rebuild the trust that has been damaged over the past few months.

"Employers have indicated their support for this proposal, however, this is conditional on the suspension of industrial action.

"We expect the union to provide urgent clarity on the action planned for the week of the 16 April. Suspension of this action would be a huge relief to students ahead of the main examination period."

maria.espadinha@ft.com