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University Pension Fund Deficit Balloons to £17.5bn

Posted by Richard Ward in ,

Image courtesy of Flickr, Creative Commons

The UK's university sector is facing a pension scheme deficit of £17.5bn, making it the largest on record at any British retirement fund.

The pension scheme has ballooned by £9bn over the past year, with total retirement liabilities of £77.5bn at the end of March, versus assets of £60bn.

The Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) provides pensions for academics and has more than 390,000 members, mostly related to pre-1992 universities.

The USS deficit is much higher than that recorded by BT, which controls the largest pension scheme of any UK company and has a deficit of £9bn.

The news of the deficit lead to independent pension consultant, John Ralfe, suggesting the deficit was unpalatable and academics would need to contribute more into their retirement or have pensions diluted.

Alternatively, Mr Ralfe, suggested student fees would have to be raised, or more money would have to be diverted from teaching.

He said: "It seems inconceivable to me that student fees will not have to be diverted into plugging the pension deficit.

"That means either they go up or there is a smaller amount of money that can be dedicated to teaching and research. Any obviously the student fees that are paid are for teaching and research, not to pay for the folly of USS betting on equities over the last few years."

The deficit held by USS has rocketed because its growth in assets has not kept up with liabilities. USS recently moved the majority of its asset management in house, but its 2016-17 annual report disclosed that its investment team had under-performed.

Despite this, a spokesperson for USS said the pensions were, secure and "backed by a solid investment portfolio and the strength of sponsoring employers."