The University remains very supportive of the need for good quality pension provision for our staff. Given the recent challenges facing USS, a Pensions Working Group has been established on which all three campus Trades Unions are represented.

This document is a joint statement from that working group prompted by the publication of the Second Report of the Joint Expert Panel in December 2019.

USS remains a strong pension scheme which has performed well in both the Defined Benefit and Defined Contribution sections. The mutual nature of the scheme, drawing on the collective assets of the Higher Education sector has enabled the scheme to deliver excellent benefits, good value for money and is highly valued by staff. We are strongly supportive of finding a way to continue these benefits.

The JEP has made specific recommendations regarding the adoption of agreed valuation principles. We support the need to develop a new purpose statement and a shared set of valuation principles. The proposals made appear to be consistent with our wish to ensure long-term sustainability of the scheme’s benefits.

The JEP proposed changes to the governance which surrounds the valuation process. We agree that:

  • greater visibility of the Trustee Directors to provide leadership to the process alongside the USS Executive could be helpful;

  • UUK’s role could be seen to conflict with other primary functions and that a better approach could be for employer representation through another body such as UCEA;

  • UCU should continue to represent scheme members and that they should explore ways in which they can represent the views of both UCU members and non-members, including those who are members of other Trade Unions.

The JEP proposes potential alternative approaches to the valuation itself. The scheme benefits from being open and with strong employer support through a mutual covenant. The level of risk taken should acknowledge this and we support the consideration of a dual discount rate.

We are very concerned at the data provided about opt-out rates for USS. Pensions are an important part of the employment package in the sector and it is concerning that opt-out rates are so much higher than the national average. We strongly encourage all involved to consider how USS benefits can be offered in a more flexible way such that there can be more options, some at lower contribution rates, made available to members. We would also like to see greater explanation of the scheme benefits, particularly for those whose career may move in/out of the UK HE sector.

We support the mutual nature of USS. Sectionalisation would undermine a key strength that USS is a sector-wide scheme offering common benefits underpinned by a strong mutual covenant.

Initial feedback from the tripartite group on the JEP2 report appears positive. We would encourage all parties involved to continue this positive engagement to deliver a sustainable USS which continues to meet sector and members’ needs.

Professor Ian White, Vice-Chancellor

Dr David Moon, Branch President, UCU

Rachel Willis, Branch Secretary, UNISON

Stéf Kasprowski, Branch Secretary, UNITE