Permanent problem 1

December 23, 2005

In response to the letters (December 16) on the article about our report ("End the 'jobs for life' culture", December 9), our paper, published in International Studies of Management and Organisation , is focused on identifying measures to improve the situation of staff on fixed-term contracts and prevent further casualisation. We are not arguing that lecturers should be moved on to fixed-term contracts but that fixed-term staff should be moved on to sensible forms of permanency.

UK universities and the UK's international reputation are increasingly reliant on a growing army of research-only staff on fixed-term contracts. Uncertainty about the potential impact of the new fixed-term legislation has led to a degree of defensive practice that might further damage the interests of this group rather than protect them. Institutions are coming up with new forms of contractual status for this group of staff, including rolling or open-ended contracts that further institutionalise their inferior status. Why not offer them permanent contracts? The problem as we see it is that permanent contracts in the university context do imply a job for life that places a massive burden on universities. Why not interpret the fixed-term provisions to imply a degree of "conditional permanency" - conditional on the existence of continued funding streams and also on the staff member's ability to perform their work effectively.

It is clear at present that a significant minority of permanent academic staff are not performing adequately, and institutions find it very difficult to deal with this. The idea that job-for-life permanency is an appropriate trade-off for low pay is not an effective or sustainable approach to human-resource management. We would be happy to continue the debate.

Louise Ackers and Liz Oliver
Leeds University

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