Universities UK (UUK) response to announcement of UCU ballot results

24 Oct 2022

A Universities UK spokesperson, on behalf of USS employers, said:

“We understand that the ballot results may leave students concerned about the impact that potential industrial action could have on their degrees. Universities are adept at mitigating the impact of strikes on student learning, and so prepared for any further possible industrial action over the coming months. Universities will put in place a series of measures to minimise the impact of any industrial action on students, other staff and the wider community.

“Employer contributions to USS pensions, which rose to 21.6% of salary in April, are among the highest in the country and at the very limit of affordability.  This contribution rise, together with the significant covenant commitments made by employers, lessened the benefit reforms and avoided huge cost increases for both employers and staff in the last scheme valuation. This support from employers alongside the effects of rising interest rates on the scheme explains why USS now appears to be in better financial shape.

“The USS Trustee will conduct a full valuation scheduled for March 2023, at which point stakeholders will be able to consider any improvements to the scheme which could be made in a sustainable way.  However, at this time and in the current volatile economic climate, the USS Trustee insists that there is no solid evidence or basis to establish a long-term view of any substantive improvement in the scheme’s funding position. 

“We continue to meet union and USS representatives regularly. Should UCU decide to take industrial action, unfortunately this is likely to impede joint working on the next valuation, and delay much-needed changes such as governance reform of the scheme and the introduction of lower cost options for members.”

Notes for background information:

The USS Trustee consists of 3 directors nominated by the University and College Union, 4 by Universities UK, and 5 independent directors.

The necessary benefit changes implemented in April 2022 have helped to put the scheme on a more sustainable footing. Without the changes in April, staff would be paying much higher contributions during a cost of living crisis – from this month, October 2022, a USS member earning £40,000 a year would have had to pay an extra £480 a year (11% of salary, up from the current level of 9.8%, rising to 12.5% in April 2023). All USS employers would have had to make severe budget cuts to find ways of paying 25.2% of salary in contributions, an increase of 3.6%, rising to 26.5% in April 2023.  

The USS employer contribution rose to 21.6% of salary in April 2022 which is three times higher than the average employer contribution rate among the FTSE 250 companies, p11, WTW Defined Contribution and Savings Survey, 2022