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Universities seek meaningful talks with UCU about USS

23 February 2018

Universities UK has today called on the University and College Union (UCU) to meet to engage in serious, meaningful talks on the future of the USS pension scheme.

The employers' representative is asking that UCU returns to talks on the future of the scheme and attend a meeting next Tuesday, 27 February.

It is of paramount importance that both sides make every effort to meet – despite the ongoing industrial action – to stop any impact and disruption to students.

Universities UK has never refused to continue to try to find an affordable, mutually acceptable solution. We would be willing to discuss a credible proposal that addresses the significant financial issues the scheme is facing.​

The problem that we share as interested parties in USS is that, to continue to offer current benefits, contributions would have to rise by approximately £1 billion per annum. The scheme has a £6.1 billion deficit and there has been an increase of more than a third in the cost of future pensions.


Key facts:

  • Universities UK is open to changing the scheme again to reintroduce defined benefits, if economic and funding conditions improve. 
  • Following a series of discussions lasting longer than one year, on 23 January 2018  the Joint Negotiating Committee – the formal and legally established forum for deciding changes to USS - supported a proposal by Universities UK, representing 350 higher education employers, to make the scheme sustainable.
  • Over that period, the union tabled only one proposal, which would have involved employers increasing contributions by around £500m every year. This would necessitate large cuts to budgets in other areas such as teaching and research, and put many jobs at risk. It would also require a 35% increase in member contributions for less than the current pension offered.
  • Talks about the future of the scheme would not re-open the Joint Negotiating Committee decision made on 23 January. From the end of March, a two-month consultation will begin, when members of USS, will be asked for their views on the Joint Negotiating Committee's proposal.  
  • We revised the original proposal to the Joint Negotiating Committee to take into account the points UCU made in over 35 meetings over the past year. To that end, we have been asking, and continue to ask, for further talks with UCU on the future of the scheme including:
    • Exploring alternative models for risk sharing, which might provide higher certainty about retirement benefits to USS members.  An example of an alternative scheme is collective defined contribution, which is currently not possible under UK legislation, although this may change in the future.
    • Exploring a well-defined framework for the future re-introduction of meaningful defined benefit if economic and funding conditions improve.
    • Exploring how deficit recovery contributions can be kept as low as possible, so that a greater proportion of employer and employee contributions supports future benefits.
    • Engaging with stakeholders on the way that any investment de-risking is to be implemented by the USS trustee.

  • ​We wish to continue to discuss any credible, affordable proposal; and even at this late stage, we are confident that employers would want to consider whether such a proposal could form the basis of a way forward. 


  1. Universities UK published an open letter today – signed jointly by the President of Universities UK Professor Dame Janet Beer and Universities UK Chief Executive Alistair Jarvis – stating that employers want 'to continue to discuss any credible, affordable proposal'. See the letter in full on the Universities UK website.

  1. USS is one of the largest private pension schemes in the UK and is the principal scheme for academic and comparable staff in UK universities and other higher education and research institutions.  Universities UK is representing the views of more than 350 higher education employers on USS reform proposals.

  1. USS is governed by a clear set of scheme rules. Any changes to these rules need to be decided on through the JNC. The JNC brings together an equal number of representatives from Universities UK and the University and College Union. The JNC has an independent chair who oversees discussions between employer and member representatives, and can choose to cast a deciding vote if agreement between both parties cannot be reached.

Key Contacts

Jo Hindle

Jo Hindle

Head of Media
Universities UK

Luke Lambert

Luke Lambert

Press and Social Media Officer
Universities UK

Clara Plackett

Clara Plackett

Senior Press and Social Media Officer
Universities UK



Dates confirmed for joint talks on future of USS pension scheme

8 January 2020
Five dates in January have been confirmed for senior stakeholders to meet and discuss reform to the USS pension scheme.