A total of 71 staff at the Universities Superannuation Scheme received bonuses averaging £40,000 each in the year ending March 2010, it was reported this month.
The news follows a period of bitter dispute over proposed changes to the scheme.
Last month, the employers won their battle with the University and College Union when Sir Andrew Cubie, the independent chairman of the USS joint negotiating committee, used his casting vote to support their plans after negotiations broke down.
The employers’ proposals include career-average, instead of final-salary, pensions for new entrants and a normal pension age of 65 for current members.
The UCU responded to news of the bonus payments by reiterating its call for a national ballot of all USS members on the plans.
Under present arrangements, individual universities will be left to run consultations, but only organisations with more than 50 USS members are formally required to take part.
Sally Hunt, the union’s general secretary, said: “The bonus-payout revelations have increased the need for a proper consultation on proposed changes to the pension scheme. There are serious questions to be asked about the need for such draconian changes and if the scheme is to retain any legitimacy, then there must be a ballot of all USS members.”
In a statement, the USS said: “The Universities Superannuation Scheme is a long-term investor and performance-related bonuses are based on five years rather than just an annual period.
“Eighty per cent of bonuses are performance-related and are only paid to managers when benchmarks are met or surpassed over the whole of the five-year period.
“Due to a combination of good investment performance, in which the internal fund outperformed its benchmark, together with favourable market conditions, the fund’s assets appreciated by more than £4 billion during the year.
“Good investment performance resulted in increased bonus payments to the London-based investment team…the bonus scheme helps us to attract and retain talented staff.”
Consultations on the changes are scheduled to run from late September to early December.