Ask the panel

July 22, 2005

Worried about your employment, maternity, pension rights? Send your questions to The Times Higher advice panel.

I work three days a week teaching. The other two days, I do research - unpaid. I am acknowledged by the university as a good researcher, and my work is important for its research assessment exercise submission. I fear that if I try to renegotiate my contract so that I am paid for my research, I will be perceived as a troublemaker. A lot of fellow female lecturers are in the same position. What can I do?

* The panellist from the Association of University Teachers , which has carried out extensive research into the implications of the research assessment exercise for women, is concerned.

"First, you would need to be fairly certain about your contractual obligations," he says. "If there is no reference to undertaking research as part of your employment, the university has no claim to use your research for any purpose."

He says that you need to look at the number of hours you are expected to teach.

"As a general guide, teaching time can be multiplied by a factor of 2.5 to give the amount of additional time required for preparation, marking and so on. If this results in use of the three days for which you are paid, then it can be demonstrated that the university does not pay for you to undertake research. This being the case, the university has no claim on the use of your research and the intellectual property remains entirely with yourself."

He stresses that the union is concerned that many women may be in your position.

"It would be extremely useful to discuss the problem with your local AUT representatives and for them to present the issue to the university as a collective matter affecting a number of members of staff in a way that disproportionately affects women on part-time contracts," he says.

"The university should then be urged to require departments to enter into discussions with all staff in such a position to ensure that contractual arrangements provide the opportunity to undertake the work from which the university wishes to benefit.'

* Our Natfhe panellist says: "Whether you are entitled to be paid for doing research in your free time will depend on whether this is work you are required to do by the university. If you are not (as appears to be the case), then you are certainly entitled to seek to change your contract to reflect what you do, but the university is under no contractual obligation to agree to such a change."

He adds: "However, if it is the case that many men are put on contracts that are similar to yours but that include payment for such research time, you should take advice from your union as to whether you have unearthed a discriminatory practice.

"If necessary, you could consider using the Sex Discrimination Act questionnaire process to obtain this information, but you should be able to obtain it without recourse to that. Discrimination is often hard to establish for one individual. But if there appears to be a pattern of discrimination, then the onus may pass to the employer to show that discrimination is not taking place - much more helpful for you."

* The panellist from the Universities and Colleges Employers' Association says: "Implementation of the framework agreement on pay modernisation, agreed by employers and the seven higher education unions, will see all roles undergo evaluation. If yours has not yet been done, ask for it to be carried out.

"This will give you the opportunity to raise the issue of how much unpaid work you are undertaking. Your manager may, in any case, be happy to discuss the issue and to renegotiate a contract that factors in your research work."

* The Research Councils UK panellist says: "You could ask your university whether it would support you in making an application to a research council. If the answer is 'yes', you could apply and include your time as a legitimate cost under the new full economic cost regime."

This advice panel includes the Association of University Teachers, Natfhe, the Universities and Colleges Employers' Association, Research Councils UK and Rachel Flecker, an academic who sits on Bristol University's contract research working party. Send questions to advicepanel@thes.co.uk

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