Proposals for pensions to move away from a system of a guaranteed income upon retirement galvanised tens of thousands of university staff across the country last FebruaryMathias Gjesdal-Hammer

University of Cambridge has declared its support for recommendations that universities carry higher risk in the national staff pensions scheme in a statement published today, reaffirming the recommendations by an expert panel set up in the wake of national staff strikes which struck the higher education sector earlier this year.

The recommendations, recently proposed by the Joint Expert Panel (JEP), a panel of representatives from both the higher education trade union University and Colleges Union (UCU) and employer advocacy group Universities UK (UUK), also included that employer contributions to the national scheme be increased to 20.1% of salaries, with employee contributions at 9.1% of salaries.

The University’s vocalised support for increased contributions lies significantly in contrast with its original survey response in September 2017 on pensions scheme reforms, where Cambridge had called for university employers to carry a lower burden of risk and expressed support for pensions fund risks be individualised on employees.

These original proposed pension changes, put forward by UUK last year and which became a mobilising force for strike action, had maintained employer contributions at 18% of salaries and employee contributions at 8%, while moving staff pensions funds toward a fully ‘defined contribution’ system – thereby leaving the values of staff pensions upon retirement dependent on stock market performance of underlying investments.

During strike action in early March, Cambridge Vice-Chancellor Stephen Toope indicated the University’s reversal on contributions, announcing that Cambridge would commit to making “higher pension contributions to support a defined benefit pension in the USS”.

Earlier this week, the results of a consultation run by UUK revealed that 92% of respondents had expressed explicit support for the JEP’s recommendations, with many universities openly expressing their support for the report.

The Cambridge branch of UCU had therefore called on Cambridge to clarify their position, outlined in today’s statement.


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The Cambridge UCU branch responded on Twitter to the University’s support for JEP proposals, saying: “No big surprises for anyone that has been at staff q&a sessions; support given to the recommendations, but with a call for scheme redesign.”

The University’s statement affirmed that the JEP’s proposal could form the basis of a “good short term solution” to the 2017 pension valuation, while suggesting that more sustainable long term solutions be explored which provide “better value for money” and “more flexibility for employees”.

The University urged UUK to engage with the UCU and the JEP on this issue, and added that any additional commitments should not “constrain operational and financial flexibility unduly” or place “significant additional short term risks to University employer cash flows”.