Academic on 10th fixed-term contract fights for permanency

More than 1,200 people sign letter supporting Feyzi Ismail in her dispute with SOAS University of London

May 28, 2019
Source: Alamy

An academic on her 10th fixed-term contract is fighting to force her university to give her a permanent contract.

More than 1,200 people have signed a letter supporting Feyzi Ismail in her dispute with SOAS University of London, where she is a senior teaching fellow.

Dr Ismail has been teaching in the department of development studies since 2011 and is currently on her 10th contract.

She has been employed continuously since 1 January 2014 on a series of full-time fixed-term contracts but has twice been denied a permanent post.

Employment law in the UK states that “any employee on fixed-term contracts for four or more years will automatically become a permanent employee, unless the employer can show there is a good business reason not to do so”.

Her supporters have said that they are “deeply concerned” that SOAS “is not adhering to the spirit of labour law for all workers”.

They call on the institution to “take the lead in eliminating the precarious and discriminatory conditions currently endemic within higher education”.

Dr Ismail told Times Higher Education that she believed universities were “benefiting from the exploitation” of PhD students and early career academics, who were just looking for a “measure of security in a very insecure” higher education sector.

Dr Ismail made requests for permanency last year and this year, both of which were rejected on the basis of “objective justifications”.

These included that she was covering for staff absences or specialist expertise required by the institution for a temporary period.

SOAS had made the argument that “you have been covering and therefore at some point we don’t need you”, said Dr Ismail. “My argument is that I have been doing exactly the same things in my job for the last five years, so whether it is this or that objective justification is irrelevant, because the core of my job has stayed the same.

“I do exactly the same thing as every other permanent employee in the department.”

After her first request for permanency, SOAS reduced the hours associated with Dr Ismail’s position to half a full-time equivalent post.

She has taken up a second half-time position at Goldsmiths, University of London, and said that it was like “literally doing two full-time jobs”.

Dr Ismail has appealed against the latest rejection and was due to have a grievance hearing on 21 May, but it was cancelled for the third time.

Students had organised a silent protest outside the venue in her support.

A SOAS spokeswoman said: “Employment issues for all staff are dealt with using our internal HR procedures and we cannot comment on individual cases.”

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