by Emma Jackson
Earlier this year we undertook sustained strike action to fight for defined benefit (DB) pensions, based on our contributions rather than the performance of the market. The argument over the state of the pension fund was at the heart of the dispute. In the run up to and throughout the strike action USS, UUK and our own university management told us that the USS pension fund was in trouble and that to contest the withdrawal of defined benefit pensions was unrealistic and unreasonable. The employers argued that spiraling payments would be needed to subsidise the pension scheme and that this would bankrupt universities unless we switched to a Defined Contribution scheme.
In March 2018, UCU and Universities UK, set up a Joint Expert Panel to review the USS valuation processes and methodology to establish a future joint approach to the valuation of the pension fund. Half of the panel was chosen by the union and half by the employers. Their report has now been published and supports UCU’s position that the valuation of the pension fund from 2017 needs adjusting. Rather than the pension fund facing imminent crisis, the panel found that it would be possible to sustain defined benefit pensions at their current level (via a +2.1% increase in employer and +1.1% increase in member contributions). The JEP was unanimous in proposing that the 2017 valuation should be adjusted.
This is great news and a massive vindication for our position. We were right to defend our DB pensions and to campaign for a revaluation of the pension fund. Our strike action brought about the Joint Expert Panel and we must continue to fight for our pensions and pay over the coming academic year.