Universities UK (UUK) has suggested a collective defined contribution (CDC) scheme could be a replacement for the defined benefit (DB) element of the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS).
In an open letter to USS members, UUK president Professor Dame Janet Beer and chief executive Alistair Jarvis said it was prepared to get back round the negotiating table to discuss a number of options for replacing the DB section of the scheme, of which CDC was one.
The letter was sent as staff at 64 universities across the UK launched strike action over the proposal to reduce pensionable pay within the scheme from £55,550 to £0, effectively closing it to future accrual. A paper produced by the University and College Union (UCU) and First Actuarial predicted staff could be £200,000 worse off at retirement.
UUK suggested there was potential for further talks, including "exploring alternative models for risk-sharing", including CDC, even though this is not yet legislatively possible. The original proposal was for members to move into the USS' defined contribution (DC) element, Retirement Income Builder.
The body also said talks would include "exploring a well-defined framework" for the reintroduction of DB if economic and funding conditions improvement, how deficit recovery contributions could be kept as low as possible, and engaging with stakeholders over investment de-risking.
The letter said: "In the meantime, we wish to continue to discuss any credible, affordable proposal; and even at this late stage, we are confident that employers would want to consider whether such a proposal could form the basis of a way forward."
Although CDC is not yet possible under the current legal framework, the agreement between Royal Mail and the Communication Workers Union to jointly push the government to make the necessary changes has added some impetus to seek these schemes, and may have contributed to USS's proposal.
Earlier this week, the Work and Pensions Committee was told that Royal Mail's scheme could be enabled by just small changes to existing DC legislation, rather than a full primary legislation, as long as there were clear governance, transparency and communication rules.
UCU general secretary Sally Hunt welcomed UUK's proposal.
"I have made it clear from the start of this dispute that this mess can only be resolved by negotiation," she said. "We have been calling for talks for weeks either directly or through Acas, so if UUK are willing to now meeting, without preconditions with a view to resolving this dispute, this is good news."
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