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Celebrating 50 years banner

On this page you can read a brief history by Dame Kate Barker, view a timeline of the last 50 years of USS, our membership numbers, our asset values, a photo gallery and a Q&A article from one of our employees.

A brief history

It’s a great privilege to be the eighth Chair of the trustee for Universities Superannuation Scheme Limited, which was formally incorporated on Thursday 18 April 1974.

In the subsequent 50 years there have been many changes in the world around us, but the scheme’s purpose – to work with Higher Education employers to build a secure financial future for members and their families – is unchanged.

USS was created by the UK’s Higher Education sector, for the HE sector.

Following incorporation of the trustee, the scheme itself was set up on 2 December 1974 and formally came into operation on 1 April 1975, with members accepted from that date.

We owe much of its creation to the late Sir Douglas Logan, whose book The Birth of a Pension Scheme sets out the details of the scheme’s inception.

In the late 1960s, the Association of University Teachers (AUT) and the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals (CVCP) set up a Joint Consultative Committee to find out the extent of support in universities for a terminal salary scheme as an alternative to the Federated Superannuation System for Universities (FSSU).

Sir Douglas was appointed its Chair, and several years later, he became the first Chair of the Management Committee of USS (now known as the USS Board).

Although titles and names of organisations have changed, the framework and responsibilities of the scheme’s main committees have not.

It was agreed that the Management Committee would constitute up to 12 members: four representing the CVCP, two representing the AUT, one representing the University Grants Committee (UGC), and at least two (but no more than five) co-opted.

This structure has endured: today, the USS Board is made up of three directors appointed by University and College Union (UCU), four directors appointed by Universities UK (UUK) and up to five independent directors appointed by the board itself.

In the latter stages of the scheme’s creation, a Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC) was proposed. Its final agreed remit was to initiate or consider alterations in the Scheme Rules. Any recommendations for change made by the JNC would have to be implemented by the Management Committee, with the consent of the UGC, unless the Management Committee, having taken actuarial advice, considered certain restrictions set out in the amendment power were engaged.

The JNC’s consent would be needed for changes in the rules proposed by the trustee.

It was to consist of five representatives each of the CVCP and AUT and an independent Chair.

Again, the JNC’s role is no different today – and the five representatives each are from UCU and UUK. It continues to have an independent Chair appointed by the JNC itself.

Since its establishment, USS has grown from having £10 million in assets under management in 1976 to around £75 billion today – making it the UK’s largest private defined benefit (DB) pension scheme in the UK by way of assets.

Officially, the first USS pension was paid on 3 April 1975 – just three days after the scheme officially opened to members. The member in question had, however, transferred several years of pre-scheme service.

By March 1980, 229 institutions had joined USS. Almost 40,000 people had transferred from the FSSU. The scheme’s membership at that point totalled 68,266.

Unlike nine in 10 private DB schemes in the UK today, USS remains open to new members and its membership continues to grow every year – now standing at well over 500,000.

Some of the very first members to join the scheme are still paying in and building up new benefits today.

According to the Pensions Regulator, USS accounts for half of the people still actively paying into an open DB pension scheme in the UK.

In 2016, the supplementary defined contribution (DC) part of the scheme, the Investment Builder, was launched – making USS a hybrid scheme. Today, more than 150,000 members have Investment Builder savings worth almost £3bn in total. You can read about the latest developments with the Investment Builder in our Views from USS piece.

Recent economic changes meant that the scheme’s latest actuarial valuation reported an estimated £7.4bn surplus in respect of the DB fund.

One of the lowest member contribution rates in the history of the scheme came into effect on 1 January 2024, and the level of benefits offered by the scheme improved on 1 April 2024.

That is a hugely positive backdrop to the scheme’s anniversary and a strong platform on which to continue our efforts to build a secure financial future for USS members and their families.

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Our timeline

Our membership through the years

Figures are rounded

  • 1976 1993 1997
    13,000 104,000 133,000

    1980 1994 1998
    68,000 109,000 141,000

    1985 1995 1999
    74,000 116,000 149,000

    1992 1996 2000
    99,000 125,000 159,000

  • 2001 2005 2009
    170,000 215,000 264,000

    2002 2006 2010
    180,000 226,000 277,000

    2003 2007 2011
    187,000 239,000 289,000

    2004 2008 2012
    199,000 253,000 288,000

  • 2013 2017 2021
    303,000 396,000 476,000

    2014 2018 2022
    316,000 400,000 500,000

    2015 2019 2023
    323,000 440,000 528,000

    2016 2020
    373,000 460,000

Photos through the years

Our asset values through the years

Figures are rounded

  • 1976 1993 1997
    £10m £7.8bn £13.5bn

    1984 1994 1998
    £1.9bn £9.4bn £17.2bn

    1985 1995 1999
    £2.2bn £9.7bn £18.6bn

    1992 1996 2000
    £6.2bn £12bn £21.8bn

  • 2001 2005 2009
    £19.9bn £21.7bn £21.4bn

    2002 2006 2010
    £19.8bn £28.3bn £29.8bn

    2003 2007 2011
    £15.4bn £30.1bn £32.4bn

    2004 2008 2012
    £19.3bn £29bn £34.2bn

  • 2013 2017 2021
    £38.6bn £60bn £80.6bn

    2014 2018 2022
    £41.6bn £63.6bn £88.9bn

    2015 2019 2023
    £49bn £67.4bn £73.1bn

    2016 2020
    £49.8bn £66.5bn

In honour of the scheme’s 50th anniversary, we caught up with Dave Caldwell – one of USS’s longest serving members of staff.

We asked Dave the following...