Kate Barker to succeed David Eastwood as USS chair

Birmingham v-c to step down from pension fund board this August

January 21, 2020
Dame Kate Barker
Dame Kate Barker

Dame Kate Barker has been appointed the next chair of UK higher education’s biggest pension scheme, succeeding Sir David Eastwood, as the dispute over its future rages on.

Sir David, vice-chancellor of the University of Birmingham, who has chaired the Universities Superannuation Scheme since 2015, will retire from the board this August.

He will be replaced by Dame Kate, a former chief economic adviser at the Confederation of British Industry and a member of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee between 2001 and 2010.

During Sir David’s time at the helm, the USS has closed its final salary pension scheme, and it has been at the heart of widespread industrial action in 2018 and 2019. An estimated multibillion-pound deficit led to proposals to end defined benefits – the system of guaranteed payments to scheme members in retirement – which have since been dropped. Increases in members’ contributions to protect their existing benefits were subsequently introduced.

Members of the UCU walked out for 14 days on 65 campuses in 2018, and there was an eight-day strike on 60 campuses before Christmas, with further action expected.

USS has also faced controversy over its treatment of Jane Hutton, who was fired from her position on the board representing the University and College Union after going public with her claim that she was being obstructed from investigating the fund’s deficit.

USS’ most recent annual report, released last July, found that member satisfaction with the scheme had declined substantially, while a report published last month by a joint expert panel appointed by the UCU and Universities UK raised concerns about the fund’s governance and valuation proceses.

Sir David, who has been on the USS board since 2009, said that it had been “an honour and a privilege to be involved with, and lead, such an important and successful organisation over the past decade”.

Dame Kate, who sits on the University of Oxford’s council and was formerly chair of governors at Anglia Ruskin University, is currently chair of the British Coal Staff Superannuation Scheme.

“It is a real privilege to be invited to take up this role. I am well aware of just how important this pension scheme is to university staff past and present. In addition, the performance of the scheme and its effective management is significant for much of the university sector,” Dame Kate said.

“I look forward to working with the other trustees and indeed with all of the dedicated staff at USS.”

The USS is the UK’s largest private pension scheme, with funds valued at more than £68 billion.

chris.havergal@timeshighereducation.com

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