Under-strain USS moots higher retirement age

October 13, 2006

Academics joining old universities could see their retirement age rise above 65 as the Universities Superannuation Scheme launches a major consultation exercise to meet increased pension costs.

The University and College Union has responded angrily to the suggestion, arguing that there is no financial imperative and that it will create a two-tier system.

The USS, the main pension scheme for academics in old universities, has traditionally allowed academics to retire at 65.

The Teachers' Pension Scheme, which covers academics in new universities, controversially raised its retirement age for new members to 65 in June after an extensive consultation period. The USS consultation does not specify a new retirement age. The TPS retirement age was previously 60.

Launching the consultation exercise this week, Sir Martin Harris, the USS chairman, said that there was "no cause for alarm".

He said: "Scheme funding is coming under pressure for a number of reasons. We seek an open dialogue where no outcomes have been predetermined."

USS chief executive Tom Merchant reassured members that existing benefits would not be cut. The USS has 230,000 members and is consulting its 378 employer institutions on the best way of providing their pensions in future.

Shifting employment patterns, higher salaries and longer life expectancy as well as new age discrimination legislation and revenue rule changes have all put pressure on the scheme.

The consultation paper outlines a number of options:

  • Raise the employers' contribution rate by 2 per cent
  • Avoid this increase by raising the retirement age for new members.
  • Bring in a system where early retirements are paid for separately by institutions rather than being funded generally through the scheme.

Roger Kline, head of equality and employment rights at the UCU, said: "We understand the need to be prudent but we see no case for raising the retirement age. There is growing evidence that working in academia is particularly stressful, and many academics struggle to reach the existing retirement age."

He said the union was also firmly opposed to moves to pay for early retirements separately. "This could be hard for struggling universities," he said. "We very much want to keep the integrity of the scheme."

In line with the TPS, the USS is considering allowing members to "taper their way into retirement" by taking a proportion of their pension while leaving the remainder in the scheme and continuing to work and build up further pension entitlement.

Mr Kline said that the union would support moves towards greater flexibility.

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