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For staff


This is the text of an email bulletin that was sent to all USS members at the University on 28 April 2021.

30-second read

  • We want your views on USS! We are running a survey for all USS-eligible staff at Cambridge – closing date 7 May
  • The survey includes a question about potential lower-cost options within the scheme
  • The video recording of the open meeting on 13 April is available to watch
  • We are preparing a Q&A document to summarise questions asked at the open meeting

Survey of USS-eligible staff at Cambridge

Dear colleague,

I am writing to let you know about a survey being run by the Pensions Working Group (PWG). The PWG is a subcommittee of the Finance Committee, and has members from the Council, the Cambridge Colleges, Cambridge UCU and the postdoc community sitting on it. It advises the University on all pensions matters, and will play a lead role in shaping the University’s response to the challenges faced by USS.

The PWG believes that the current “one size fits all” benefit structure of USS is problematic. Many staff opt out of the scheme, at Cambridge and across the country, and this is concerning: staff who opt out are losing access to the many benefits of a workplace pension scheme, and especially on contributions from their employer towards their retirement savings.

We want to understand why so many staff are opting out, and how the scheme could better suit their needs. One possibility might be to introduce an additional, lower-cost, lower benefit section of the scheme as an option for those staff who find the main section too expensive.

This short survey asks for your views on affordability and possible additional lower-cost options. Note: the survey is not about the options currently being considered to resolve the 2020 valuation. Instead, it asks some more general questions about the scheme’s affordability and what might make it work better for a larger number of eligible staff.

It should take no more than five minutes to complete and all responses are completely anonymous. The survey closes on 7 May. Note: the link to the survey was included in the USS bulletin.

The survey contains an illustrative comparison of two different benefit structures to help visualise the kinds of more affordable options that might be introduced, and how these compare to the current benefit structure (although note the current benefit structure is likely to change as a result of the 2020 valuation).

One of the lower-cost options is defined benefit (DB). In a DB pension scheme, you get an annual income of a guaranteed (inflation-adjusted) amount all through your retirement, however long you live.

The other lower-cost option is defined contribution (DC). In a DC pension scheme, you pay into an investment account during your working life and then use this to provide for your retirement, either by buying an annuity or by drawing down the money gradually.

It is important to note that:

  • these lower-cost options and figures are only illustrative
  • if UUK were to propose them formally as part of a negotiation on scheme benefits, they would be additional options to the higher cost, ‘core’ benefits offered by USS
  • the current core benefit structure and/or contribution rates are likely to change as a result of the 2020 valuation
  • in stating the employer contribution rates for the two DB structures, we have excluded the cost of expenses, deficit recovery contributions and life insurance/ill-health retirement to allow for a more direct comparison with the lower-cost DC option.

Thank-you for taking the time to complete the survey. Your feedback will help Cambridge engage with UUK and USS about making the scheme work better for everyone.

Anthony Odgers 
Chief Financial Officer and Chair of the University’s Pensions Working Group

Recording of 13 April open meeting and Q&A document

You can watch a recording of the open meeting held on 13 April (Raven login required).

Lots of questions were submitted and we couldn’t take them all during the event, so we are compiling a Q&A document to address the main themes. This will be circulated soon. If you have any questions you would particularly like to see answered, you are welcome to email them to internalcomms [at] and we will consider them for inclusion in the Q&A.