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Commons committee looks into £12bn university pensions shortfall

2 min read

A Commons committee will investigate the black hole in universities’ pension scheme, after the shortfall widened to £12.6bn in three years. 

Work and Pensions Committee chairman Frank Field has written to the pensions regulator, those who run the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) fund, and ministers to look into the widening deficit.

The USS covers more than 390,000 people across 350 universities and has seen the gap between assets and liabilities increase from £5.3bn in 2014 to more than £12bn as of March 2017.

Labour MP Mr Field told the Financial Times: “This is an opening skirmish.”

He also challenged Universities Minister Jo Johnson – who has recently spoken out against some of the pay awards to vice-chancellors – to take action.

“Jo Johnson is concerned about the rate of pay vice-chancellors are awarded and this is a way for him to say, ‘how can you justify these sort of awards when some of you sit on your pension fund, and you [are] steering it on to the rocks’,” Mr Field added.

Mr Johnson replied: “When students and taxpayers invest so heavily in our higher education system, value for money should be guaranteed. That’s why I have repeatedly called on the sector to exercise restraint and put an end to the upward ratchet of vice-chancellor pay.”

USS said its scheme “remains within affordable levels” and that the deficit was “unlikely” to be as large as the £12bn recorded in its recent accounts. 

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