UK - The £43.7bn (€54.5bn) Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) has seen its deficit balloon over the past year to £9.8bn, reducing its funding ratio to 77% as at 31 March.

This compares with a £2.9bn deficit and a funding ratio of 92% the year before.

The scheme trustees implemented a 10-year recovery plan to eliminate the deficit on 1 October last year.

This included calculating pensions for new members on a career average revalued earnings (CARE) basis instead of on final salary, and raising overall contributions.

Currently, employers pay 16% of salaries into the scheme.

This will continue for the first six years of the recovery plan - for the final four years, employers will pay 2% in excess of the then cost of accruals. 

USS said it had a variety of options available to control costs. 

It could set higher contribution rates or extend the target recovery period beyond the original 10 years.

It might anticipate that future investment outperformance would be sufficient to deal with any deficit, or it may take the view that benefit changes (for future service) should be considered, it said.  

Changes to future benefits will be decided by the Joint Negotiating Committee, made up equally of representatives of employers, and the University and College Union, with an independent chairman.

David Davison, director at Spence & Partners, said: "All the factors that apply to DB schemes - increasing life expectancy, lower investment returns and falling Gilt yields - apply here, but in addition, academic staff also tend to have longer life expectancy.

"So for active members, there's a double whammy of paying not only more for their own pensions but paying for the pensions of those already retired as well." 

He said USS's long-term strategy would be to fund its way out of this with increased contributions.

"Ultimately," he said, "should these continue to rise, then the scheme is likely to consult universities and employees to ensure they are happy to continue paying higher amounts.

"Alternatively, if there is a demand to reduce the benefits, perhaps they could move to a CARE basis consistent with recent public sector changes, given that this is already in place for new entrants to USS.

"But I don't see the scheme moving away from DB any time soon, as I suspect this would be extremely unpopular."