Conference trains spotlight on zero-hours contracts

Students will demand ‘full-time professionals’, it is claimed, but others say the contracts will increase

July 11, 2013

Source: Alamy

Casual conversations: fee-paying students expect academic staff to be on full-time rather than zero-hours contracts

The apparent rise of zero-hours contracts for academics has been halted by increasingly demanding students who, in return for higher fees, now expect professors to be full-time, it has been said.

Laurence Hopkins, a research and employee relations analyst from the Universities and Colleges Employers Association, made the claim at a conference on the issue held on 4 July by the Work Foundation thinktank.

Mr Hopkins told the Flexibility or Insecurity? Exploring the Rise in Zero-hours Contracts conference that “the use of these types of arrangements” was being stemmed “because students are now driving up quality”.

He added that students paying £9,000 a year “want to see full-time professionals teaching them”.

But Ian Brinkley, director of the Work Foundation, said that he expected a “steady increase” in the use of zero-hours contracts, including at universities.

Workers on the contracts are not guaranteed a set number of hours per week, which critics claim leads to uncertainty and low levels of pay. In June, the University and College Union congress heard suggestions that scholars employed under these contracts had even been forced to rifle through supermarket bins to make ends meet.

UCU delegates passed a motion in favour of abolishing the contracts and called on Ucea to collect data on how widespread the practice was.

In April, the Labour shadow secretary of state for health, Andy Burnham, also suggested that they should be banned, and last month the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills announced that it would be investigating whether they lead to abusive practices by employers.

Yet none of the panel members at the Work Foundation event called for an outright ban, favouring a code of conduct instead.

Alison McGovern, Labour MP for Wirral South, said they created an undignified “power imbalance” between employer and employee, and asked whether the time spent by staff waiting to see if they would be given work should not be covered by minimum wage legislation.

Nicola Smith, head of economic and social affairs at the Trades Union Congress, suggested that employees on such contracts should be guaranteed a minimum retainer.

It is unclear how many workers in universities are on zero-hours contracts, although 82,000 workers in the sector are currently on “atypical” contracts, according to Higher Education Statistics Agency figures.

Nationally, 200,000 people (0.7 per cent of the workforce) are on the contracts, according to the Work Foundation, up from 89,000 in 2004. Nearly a quarter of these are full-time students.

On the same day as the conference, Ucea published the Higher Education Workplace Survey 2013.

The report finds limited evidence that the university workforce is being “casualised”, as some critics have claimed, pointing out that only 13 per cent of institutions surveyed said they were increasing the number of staff on non-permanent contracts in order to boost “efficiency, [and] enhance workforce flexibility”.

Meanwhile, the report adds that fewer than one in 20 universities say they are switching from full-time contracts to part-time ones.

david.matthews@tsleducation.com

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 6 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Most Commented

question marks PhD study

Selecting the right doctorate is crucial for success. Robert MacIntosh and Kevin O'Gorman share top 10 tips on how to pick a PhD

India, UK, flag

Sir Keith Burnett reflects on what he learned about international students while in India with the UK prime minister

Pencil lying on open diary

Requesting a log of daily activity means that trust between the institution and the scholar has broken down, says Toby Miller

Application for graduate job
Universities producing the most employable graduates have been ranked by companies around the world in the Global University Employability Ranking 2016
Construction workers erecting barriers

Directly linking non-EU recruitment to award levels in teaching assessment has also been under consideration, sources suggest