Written by Rosie Neill

Product Marketing Manager

We were joined by Dr Sam Marsh for our latest staff webinar. As well as a Teaching Fellow in the School of Maths at the University of Sheffield, Sam is Senior Vice-President for the University of Sheffield University and College Union (UCU) and the elected national negotiator for UCU on the USS. 

Sam gave a great overview of the USS, including the history of the pension scheme, what’s happening now, who’s involved, and what might happen next.

What is the USS?

USS stands for the Universities Superannuation Scheme. It’s the pensions scheme for staff working in pre-92 universities. 

It usually applies for staff who are on pay grade 6 and above, and won’t necessarily include all staff at an institution. Most universities have other pension schemes too.

Timeline of USS history

1975-2011: The USS was formed in 1975 and until 2011, was stable as what is known as a ‘final salary defined benefit (DB) scheme’. This means that contributions are paid in by both employers and employees, which build up benefits that the employee will claim in retirement. Up until 2011, these benefits were based on the salary the employee was earning upon retirement.

2011: The 2008 financial crash had an impact on the scheme’s valuation. So in 2011, the USS closed the final salary section to new entrants. Instead, a ‘career average DB scheme’ was introduced in the belief that this would stabilise the scheme.

2016: Based on a new valuation of the scheme, the USS closed the final salary scheme to all and moved those in it to a ‘hybrid scheme’. For higher earners, the hybrid scheme was part DB and part defined contribution (DC). In a DC scheme, pension contributions are put into investment pots, which is less stable, less certain and involves more risk than a DB scheme. 

2018: Following another valuation, the USS proposed the closure of the DB section entirely and move to a DC only scheme. This led to a major industrial dispute across the higher education sector over the valuation of the scheme. 

2019/20: The DB scheme remained after the 2018 dispute, but further industrial dispute occurred over increased contribution rates. 

It’s important to note that all of the changes to the USS over recent years have been as a result of valuations of the DB scheme.

Where are we now and what’s next?

Watch the recording of the webinar to hear Sam’s explanation of current USS negotiations, and what might happen next.

Further resources

If you have any questions or comments for Sam, you can get in touch with him directly on Twitter

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