In this climate, USS plans are generous

March 17, 2011

In a letter to Times Higher Education on 10 March ("Employers, it's Acas or action - your choice"), Sally Hunt, the University and College Union's general secretary, threatens strike action to overturn decisions already made for necessary reforms to the Universities Superannuation Scheme. I urge the UCU to reconsider its position and return to the USS joint negotiating committee, the only appropriate forum for considering changes to the scheme.

The proposed changes are moderate and are the minimum necessary to address the risks facing the USS. The employers' view is that there is no scope for further improvement to the plans beyond the significant changes that have already been made as a result of the consultation process.

Our view is reinforced by changing circumstances. Since the proposals were agreed in July 2010, unprecedented cuts in teaching funding mean that institutions in England have much less certainty about one of their main funding sources. Funding will now follow the student through variable tuition fees, and the USS covenant has been weakened as a result.

To these financial pressures we must add the rapidly changing political agenda that has given far greater urgency to public sector pensions reform and the need to bring final-salary provision to an end. Continuing delays in implementing the changes will inevitably raise the question among employers of whether the current proposals are sufficiently radical to deal with the deteriorating financial environment that universities now face.

I believe that it is in the interests of all scheme members that this package of reforms, which retains final-salary arrangements for current members, is implemented. The UCU, the employers and USS representatives have worked hard over a long period to shape the reforms. I genuinely believe that they will come to be seen as remarkably good given the circumstances in higher education and the wider economy.

Brian Cantor, Chair of the Employers Pension Forum

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