The idea of establishing an expert panel was agreed with the University and College Union (UCU) at this week's ACAS talks to inform future valuations, but is now being introduced immediately to address concerns over the current valuation. UCU will be invited to play a full role in providing evidence to the panel.
The panel will consider issues of methodology, assumptions and monitoring, aiming to promote greater transparency and understanding of the USS valuation. It will have an independent chair, involve academics and pension professionals, and will liaise with both USS and the Pensions Regulator.
The terms of reference and panel composition will be announced shortly, and the panel will be asked to report back as soon as possible.
The establishment of the panel will not impact on the legal requirement for USS to submit a plan to put the scheme on sustainable footing to the Pensions Regulator by 30 June 2018. Furthermore, it won't prevent both sides reaching a resolution ahead of the summer exam period, during which time UCU is proposing further strike action.
Alistair Jarvis, Chief Executive of Universities UK said: "Concerns have been raised over the way the scheme has been valued, which has led some to question whether there is, in fact, a very large deficit. This panel of independent experts will consider issues of methodology, assumptions and monitoring, aiming to create more transparency and understanding of how the scheme is valued. I hope it will give assurance that the valuation undertaken by USS has been robust, and boost public confidence in the process.
"The Pensions Regulator has imposed a clear, legal deadline for a plan to be in place to tackle the scheme's financial challenges. We have proposed changes only because they are necessary.
"Both sides must work urgently to avoid the dispute impacting on the exam period. In the interests of our students, I hope we can now reach a speedy resolution. Students are caught in the middle of this dispute through no fault of their own."