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Changes to academic pensions

Proposals have been made by Universities UK (UUK) that would see significant detrimental changes being made to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) and affect those who are part of this scheme working for academic institutions.

To be clear these proposals are solely linked to the USS and would have no impact on members of other pension schemes, such as the NHS Pension Schemes.

What is happening?

In 2017, an actuarial valuation of the Universities Superannuation Scheme, commissioned by the USS trustees, concluded that the cost of funding the promised USS pensions had increased significantly. 


This triggered discussions between Universities UK (UUK) and the Universities and Colleges Union (UCU) on proposed reforms to the Universities Superannuation Scheme which concluded without an agreement being reached.

Early in 2018, the employers' proposals as tabled by Universities UK, were passed by the USS Negotiating Committee, following the intervention of the independent Chair who used their casting vote to support these.  


These proposals would have effectively seen the guaranteed defined benefit pension closed from 1 April 2019 (at the earliest), to be replaced by a defined contribution scheme. 

In response to industrial action from members of UCU, discussions were re-opened.  UCU and UUK agreed to set up a panel to scrutinise the 2017 actuarial valuation process. 


This Joint Expert Panel concluded its scrutiny in September 2018 with a report indicating that the funding cost rise was not as significant as the USS trustees previously thought.
On 25 July 2018, the USS trustees announced that, in the absence of any agreement between the negotiating parties, their intention would be to consult on a series of contribution increases applying to both members and employers.  

This default position is required by the rules of the pension scheme, but would not be applied if the negotiating parties (i.e. UCU and UUK) are able to agree on a different set of changes to contribution or benefits.

The USS trustees proceeded with a consultation to increase the contributions for both members and employers. Their proposal was to stage contribution increases in April 2019, October 2019 and April 2020. 


This consultation concluded on 2 November 2018 and we submitted a response to this consultation.

Following the consultation, the USS trustees have committed to:

  • Commissioning a new, updated actuarial valuation which they expect to have results from in February 2019. It is not clear to what extent this will take on board the recommendations of the Joint Expert Panel, which would see the cost of the pension scheme look a lot more palatable to members and employers.
  • Impose the first of their planned contribution rises in April 2019. This would see member contributions increase from 8% to 8.8% and employers' rates increase from 18% to 19.5%.


What is the BDA doing?

We have been talking to UCU and other trade unions in the higher education sector, and our national lay members committee has been briefed on developments. We were in support of academic colleagues who were taking strike action.

If no agreement for reform is reached the rules of the USS indicate that the increased cost of the current scheme would have to be met through higher contributions levied on both members and their employers.

We will fight to protect our members' benefits and uphold their rights.


We will keep members updated on developments


What changes are being proposed?

The USS board of trustees have begun a provisional valuation of the pension fund and have reported a deficit of £7.5bn and that the cost of continuing to operate the scheme unchanged has increased significantly.

In response to these increased costs, UUK has tabled proposals that would effectively stop members generating a guaranteed retirement income. 


In future all contributions would go into an investment account that is used to fund retirement benefits, but with no guarantee. It also means that the average cost to the employer of paying future pensions savings, would be reduced, from the current rate of 15.9% of salaries, to 13.25%.

Any pension built-up before these proposed changes take force, will be protected and cannot be diminished without agreement from current pension scheme contributors, unless the HE went into insolvency.




How do I find out which pensions scheme I belong to?

There is no common position for dentists employed in the Higher Education (HE) sector with regards to pension's schemes.

Some employees are offered a choice as to whether they participate in the NHS Pension Scheme or the USS (but you can't be in both simultaneously), whereas in others, the institution decides which scheme you can belong to.

If you are unsure which scheme you belong to, you can check your payslip and any recent pension benefit statement to confirm which pension scheme you are contributing to.

You can also check your original contract of employment, to see if you were given a choice as to which scheme you could join.


What can I do?

We want to hear from dentists in the HE sector who are members of the USS, on your views on these proposals and how it will affect you.

We would also be grateful to have information from dentists, on what your terms and conditions of employment state on which pension arrangements apply to you – any data you give us will be treated as confidential – please get in touch with our Head of Pensions, please email Phil McEvoy or tel: 020 7563 4161.

This information will help us to make the case for dentists, before any proposals for reform are implemented.


More information

Useful links


Working for you

We will continue to campaign for better terms and conditions for our members. If you'd like to be kept up to date with our progress:

Through our policy and campaigning work, we ensure that the concerns of all sections of the profession are raised and that dentists' voices are heard at a national level: join us.