University of Cambridge to leave USS if talks fail to deliver sector-wide scheme

Written by Talya Misiri

The University of Cambridge has warned that it may leave the Universities Superannuation Scheme if talks cannot deliver a sector-wide scheme.

University of Cambridge professor Stephen J. Toope has released a statement on the industrial action that has taken place at universities across the UK, urging for a “pragmatic” solution to be agreed upon.

“This cannot go on,” he explained, discussing the disruption the planned strikes so far has caused for both university staff and students.

"Pensions form a key component of our compensation package for staff and they play a significant role in the attractiveness of the UK’s higher education sector to talented individuals from around the world."

The professor expressed concerns regarding how the pensions dispute is impacting parties from both home and abroad. He noted that pensions have been a key component of staff pay and conditions and played a significant role in attracting international academics to the UK.

Toope outlined that the university has been discussing possible resolutions with Universities UK. “We believe a sector-wide scheme has significant benefits. One option to maintain a sector-wide approach, at least in the short-term, would be an alternative that retains a Defined Benefit (DB) element, but combines it with a Defined Contribution (DC) component along the lines of our existing Cambridge University Assistants’ Contributory Pension Scheme (CPS),” he explained.

Another option that could serve as longer-term solutions, Toope said, include a collective defined contribution scheme, like that being proposed by the Royal Mail, or alternatively, a government-backed solution. “These might offer better benefits than the current scheme, yet still be affordable for universities. However, these require new legislation or government action.”

If a sector-wide scheme cannot be agreed upon, Cambridge University may have to consider if a Cambridge-specific scheme is achievable, within or outside the USS, Toope added.

"You have my absolute commitment to working with all parties to find a way through this dispute; a way which recognises the concerns of our staff, ensures the sustainability of the University, and maintains an excellent education for our students. Such an outcome is imperative if we are to safeguard the global leadership of the UK’s higher education sector, and of Cambridge University in particular,” Toope concluded.

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