Some 10,538 members of the University and College Union voted to accept a deal put forward jointly by the UCU and employers to reform the Universities Superannuation Scheme, while just 5,168 voted to reject it, according to results published by Electoral Reform Society on January.
It means 67.1 per cent of those who voted favour the proposals and 32.9 per cent were against them.
A total of 40,215 UCU members at pre-1992 universities were eligible to vote in the ballot, which ran from 16 to 26 January and was run by the Electoral Reform Society on behalf of the UCU, but just 39.1 per cent did so.
If the changes are adopted, they will affect about 150,000 university staff who currently pay into the USS, of whom about three-quarters are in the final salary scheme.
It follows a decision to suspend a marking boycott, which ran for two weeks in November, to consult union members on an improved deal on pension reform.
Critics of the plans claim some staff could lose as much as a third of their pension income, leaving some staff unable to retire due to their low retirement income.
Under the deal to cut an estimated deficit of £20 billion, pension payments towards a final salary pension would cease in March 2016.
Benefits accumulated under the scheme up to this point would be protected, but will relate to an employee’s salary in March 2016 (uprated annually by inflation) rather than their final salary on retirement.
All active members of the USS will start to pay into a scheme where benefits are calculated on the basis of career average earnings, otherwise known as Career Revalued Benefits (CRB).
In the new scheme, defined benefits will be based on an accrual rate of one-75th of pensionable salary, rather than the previously mooted rate of one-80th, which is the current accrual rate. This will result in a higher annual pension for members compared with the previous proposed reforms.
Employee contributions will also rise to 8 per cent of salary, up from the 6.5 per cent outlined in the October plans.
Employer contributions will rise from 16 per cent to 18 per cent of salary until at least 2020 – a period in which the next two valuations of the USS will take place.
In addition, members will be able to earn CRB benefits on the first £55,000 of their salary, compared with the £50,000 initially proposed in October. Beyond £55,000, employers will pay 12 per cent of salary into a defined contribution scheme and staff can top it up by paying in an extra 1 per cent that would be matched by employers.
The plans will now be discussed by UCU branch representatives at a special conference in Manchester on 28 January ahead of a meeting of the USS Joint Negotiating Committee, which comprises UCU and employers’ representatives, the following day.
A Universities UK spokesman said the JNC meeting will include a vote on the reform package, which would then be subject to statutory consultation with employees from March 2015.
“We are pleased that UCU members supported the joint UUK/UCU proposal for reform of the USS and have chosen not to restart a marking and assessment boycott,” he said.
“This outcome follows more than a year of constructive discussions and negotiations to develop a viable joint proposal,” he added.