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What is the USS dispute about?

At a meeting of the USS JNC January 2018, Universities UK, on behalf of the university employers proposed changes to the scheme that would move all future accrual from April 2019 to a defined contribution scheme. With the support of the Independent Chair, these changes were agreed. The changes are in response to an increased deficit and would result in significant reductions in future benefits for all members of the scheme.

Details of proposed changes

From 1 April 2019 (at the earliest):

The salary threshold (the salary up to which defined benefits currently build up) would reduce to zero, subject to review at future valuations;

Future benefits would be built up in the USS Investment Builder (the defined contribution part of the scheme);

The employer contribution would cover the cost of future benefits in the USS Investment Builder, death and incapacity benefits, investment management charges, deficit recovery contributions, and scheme running costs;

Members would contribute 8% of pay, but will have access to a lower cost option of contributing 4% while still receiving the full employer contribution into USS Investment Builder;

The ‘match’ – the additional 1% employer contribution currently available – would be discontinued from the date at which the changes take effect.

What this means for members of the USS scheme

Benefits already earned by active and deferred members are protected. Benefits already being paid to retired members are not affected by these changes. This means that benefits in the scheme earned up till April 2019 will not be affected.

From April 2019 the scheme would become a defined contribution (DC) scheme only. This means that instead of having a guaranteed income on retirement, the pension that members receive would be based on a annuity that would be dependent on the investment performance of the scheme and the annuity rates payable at the time of retirement.

This transfers risk to individual members of the scheme from the employers. Whilst combined employer and employee contributions would remain at their current level (18% for employers, 8% for employees), DC schemes normally result in lower pensions for members. It is likely that these changes would impact most on the youngest and lower paid members of the scheme who can least afford a reduced pension.

UNISON response

UNISON is extremely disappointed at the outcome of these negotiations. We believe that it should have been possible to negotiate a settlement that protected a significant element of the Defined Benefit Scheme. We believe that the changes proposed by the employers are unnecessarily severe and will result in significant detriment to scheme members. We will continue to campaign for these proposals to be reversed and call on all parties to re-enter negotiations.

UNISON’s HESGE Committee’s views on the offer:

UNISON’s Higher Education Service Group Executive (HESGE) met in January 2018 to discuss the proposed changes to the USS Scheme.

The Service Group Executive’s view was that USS members in universities should be consulted on the proposed changes with a recommendation to reject the employer proposals and take part in sustained industrial action.

Rejection of the changes to USS in an industrial action ballot would initiate a campaign of industrial action in line with UNISON rules.


UNISON encourages members in universities to support their UCU colleagues on picket lines and lunchtime protests and attend rallies organised by UCU. Branches are encouraged to engage with the local UCU branch to see what activities are taking place on site and think of ways that we can show solidarity, within the constraints of current legislation.

However, UNISON members in universities have not yet been balloted in relation to the USS dispute, and therefore must continue with their normal duties and responsibilities.  However UNISON members should not take on any additional responsibilities given to them as a result of the UCU industrial action.   If members are instructed by their manager to undertake additional duties resulting from the industrial action they should contact their branch or regional office for further advice

Members are reminded that due to industrial relations legislation only those employees who have been involved in a legal ballot are allowed to take industrial action.

Official Picket Lines

Refusal to cross an official picket line could render members of staff liable to disciplinary action including deduction of salary.  The exception to this is where there are genuine grounds to believe that crossing the picket line could put the person concerned at risk of injury.

UNISON members are advised that they should assure the UCU members that they will not undertake any work normally done by those on strike.


If the university decides to close the premises and staff are unable to undertake their duties, UNISON members should not suffer any deduction of pay or be expected to work additional hours to make up the time.