Discussions have opened to bring all academics into one pension scheme, possibly as early as the end of next year.
Universities UK and the Department for Education and Skills are hoping to end one of the legacies of the binary divide that means academics in old universities join the Universities Superannuation Scheme and those in new universities join the Teachers Pension Scheme.
Tony Bruce, director of policy at UUK, said: "We are working on a ten-year strategy to have one pension for all staff in universities. Initially, we are hoping to rationalise academic pensions."
Only staff joining a new university after such a rationalisation would be eligible to join the USS. New-university staff already in the TPS scheme would remain there. UUK proposals allowing new universities to choose whether their new staff should join the TPS or USS were vetoed by the DFES.
"The department felt that to offer such a choice was unhelpful," said Mr Bruce. "Instead, we are looking at a scheme where all new staff to new universities would automatically join the USS."
A spokesman for the USS said: "We are aware of these discussions. It would be theoretically possible to take in new staff from new universities. These would be new members and bring in additional funding."
But he said that the cost of transferring academic staff already in the TPS to the USS would be exorbitant.
Mr Bruce said: "Higher education members make up about 5 per cent of TPS members. Those currently in the TPS would remain there."
The USS is a well-funded scheme undergoing its tri-annual evaluation.
Discussions about expanding horizontally, that is, recruiting more academic staff across the sector, have been taking place alongside discussions about vertical expansion, which would mean taking in university support staff.
The USS has just taken in support staff at the Open University.
"We are evaluating the impact of vertical expansion before we take in more members," the USS spokesman said.
Mr Bruce said: "Over ten years we would like to see all staff in one scheme."
Support staff in old universities tend to belong to in-house schemes, many of which are in deficit. Those in new universities belong to local government pension schemes, which, as The Times Higher reported last week, are also in deficit.
Universities face increased employer contributions to meet these deficits.
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