By Carlo Morelli, UCU Scotland president (personal capacity)
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2745

New battles coming over university workers’ pensions

This article is over 3 years, 2 months old
Issue 2745
Strikers on the march in 2018
Strikers on the march in 2018 (Pic: Guy Smallman)

A return to the dispute over pensions in the older universities is now looking increasingly likely.

In 2018 the largest strike in higher education took place across Britain as employers sought to end the existing pension scheme and replace it with a much worse one.

In that battle employers and the pension fund managers were defeated and the defined benefit (DB) pension scheme continued.

Now the employers and the pension fund managers of the University Superannuation Scheme (USS) are returning to attacking the scheme. Unsurprisingly, they have chosen the Covid-19 pandemic to launch their onslaught.

But this time the cuts to workers’ pensions are even worse.

In 2018 it was suggested that members would lose over £200,000 of their pension over the course of their retirement. This time some estimates suggest that members wouldn’t even get back the money they put into the scheme.

USS has constructed a valuation that repeats the ideological dogma of deficits and rising costs to force employers to support its closure. USS estimates that pension contributions will have to rise to between 42-56 percent of salary to retain the scheme. This involves large contribution rises from the 31 percent currently paid.


The USS scheme is in fact thriving. It is a self-funded scheme with £80 billion of assets. It pays out pensions completely from the returns on those assets and new contributions from members build up still greater assets.

Estimates suggest this will continue to be the case for as far into the future they can calculate—at least the next 20 years.

The closure of the scheme represents the theft of members’ rights to a retirement. It represents the intensification of casualisation, gender, race and wider pay discrimination, as those with the least opportunity to save for a pension will be left with the least opportunity to retire.

For existing members of the scheme, it means their own pensions cannot be guaranteed as the pension vultures entice existing members to withdraw their funding from the scheme.

The undermining of the DB scheme in USS will further intensify the closure of other DB schemes in other sectors.

The UCU union has urgently to galvanise the membership to launch a fight over pensions and in doing so build a wider campaign for pensions across all industries.

The strikes in 2018 demonstrated we have the ability to bring the sector to a halt. We have to return to those methods to defend our pensions again.

The UCU Solidarity Movement is organising a conference on Sunday 14 March to start the debate and development of a strategy that can defeat these cuts.

For details of the 14 March conference go here

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