USS chief executive Bill Galvin to step down next year

Head of UK higher education’s biggest pension scheme to depart once successor is appointed

September 28, 2022
Bill Galvin

The chief executive of the Universities Superannuation Scheme, a key figure in the debate about the future of UK higher education sector pensions, has announced that he is stepping down.

Bill Galvin will leave the USS in 2023, once his successor has been appointed. At that point he will have been in the top job for a decade.

The USS is the UK higher education sector’s biggest pension fund, with more than 500,000 members across 300 institutions and assets valued in excess of £90 billion.

But its future has been the subject of huge controversy – and repeated rounds of industrial action – amid intense debate about the scheme’s value, the scale of its possible deficit, and how best to fund sector pensions in future.

Amid fears that the USS was in the red to the tune of billions of pounds, earlier this year vice-chancellors pushed through cuts to members’ pensions that the University and College Union estimates will cost staff thousands of pounds a year in retirement.

Critics highlighted that the scheme’s last full valuation had been conducted at the end of March 2020, just as the Covid-19 pandemic hit global economies, making it the worst possible time to judge performance – and that, as such, these cuts were ultimately unnecessary.

Calls for the benefits reforms to be rolled back intensified after a monitoring report published by the USS in August estimated that the fund was now in surplus to the tune of £1.8 billion.

Thousands of UCU members went on strike for 13 days over the USS cuts during the last academic year, and the union is now balloting over a potential sector-wide walkout, planned for November.

The USS is due to conduct its next formal valuation in March 2023 and has indicated that it may be possible to improve benefits or reduce contributions at that point.

But the row over the fund’s future has severely damaged its relationship with members. In a survey carried out for the USS’ latest annual report, only 17 per cent of members said that they had a good relationship with the USS, and 42 per cent rated it as negative.

Jo Grady, the UCU’s general secretary, said that Mr Galvin’s departure offered “an opportunity to usher in a new era and ensure the scheme works in the interests of the staff who pay into it”.

“Bill Galvin will be remembered as the architect of the deeply flawed valuation which was used to destroy the pension benefits of university staff. Today, as he walks away with millions in the bank, many of those who dedicate their lives to higher education are set to lose of hundreds of thousands of pounds from their retirement funds,” Dr Grady said.

In a statement announcing Mr Galvin’s departure, the USS said that he had “steered the scheme through very challenging circumstances”.

Mr Galvin said it was “important that organisation leadership does refresh periodically”.

“It has been an extraordinary privilege to play a part in the evolution of this incredibly important institution,” Mr Galvin said. “I work with exceptionally talented and caring colleagues at USS; across the operating businesses and the boards, few organisations have such capability and commitment at their disposal.

“There is much to do, particularly in these turbulent times, as we continue to improve the scheme in the interests of our members and employers and I will remain very focused on that until it is time to pass the baton.”

Dame Kate Barker, chair of the USS board, said that she was “very sorry to see Bill go”.

“Bill has been an outstanding leader for USS: passionate about the scheme’s purpose, about its people, and about the vital importance of quality pensions to the higher education sector. Under his guiding hand, USS has become one of the most high-performing and efficient private pension schemes in the country,” Dame Kate said.

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Reader's comments (1)

Good riddance total mismanaged the pension fund. Incompetence of the highest order, no doubt he will reitre on a nice fat pension himself.