Govt 'strongly encourages' a resolution to USS pension dispute

The government has said that it “strongly encourages” a resolution to the ongoing concerns around the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) that delivers "good value for students, staff and providers", emphasising the need to protect student learning.

Commenting on what discussions the Department for Education had held with the University and College Union (UCU), Minster of State for Universities, Michelle Donelan, emphasised that whilst the government has no direct role, it has been clear that it wants this disagreement resolved in a way that avoids further disrupting students’ learning.

"Higher education providers are autonomous and responsible for the pay and pension provision of their staff," she stated.

"While the government has no direct role in the disputes, we have been clear that we want this disagreement resolved in a way that avoids further disrupting students’ learning. We strongly encourage a resolution that delivers good value for students, staff, and providers."

Donelan also noted that The Pensions Regulator (TPR) is currently working with the USS, Universities UK (UUK) and a range of other stakeholders as they work to find a long-term solution to the funding challenges faced by the USS.

In addition to this, Donelan confirmed that the Office for Students (OfS) has written to universities to clarify that they must abide by the conditions of registration and meet obligations under consumer protection law.

"The OfS has wide-ranging powers to ensure students’ interests are protected, and they expect providers to do all they can to avoid disruption to students," she explained.

"The OfS has written to universities to make their expectations clear: universities must abide by the conditions of registration and ensure they meet obligations under consumer protection law in relation to the impact of industrial action."

UK universities have already faced strike action over proposed changes to the scheme, totalling 18 days of this academic year alone, with further strike action still expected at around 27 universities.

The industrial action was prompted by UCU's concerns that members could see a 35 per cent cut to their future guaranteed retirement income as a result of the reforms, which were recently pushed forward despite the industrial action.

The union also called on employers to halt the changes after a report from the USS trustee suggested that the level of contributions required to service the deficit had fallen to 0 per cent, although UUK explained at the time that the improvement in the funding position would not have been possible without the latest reforms, warning that the funding position remains "very volatile month-to-month".

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