Constant worry of lives on hold

July 3, 1998

THES reporters look at the spread of casualisation and its effects and the campaign against it. Academics tell Alison Utley how fixed-term contracts affect them


When I took up my post I was separated, still am, looking after three children and living in rented accommodation on a series of three-month contracts. I was unable to get a mortgage. After being turned down for a mortgage I was unable to seek one elsewhere as I was on computer records as having been turned down. I eventually got one after getting letters from my head of department saying my contract had been made permanent - though it never has.

My pension is a problem. After three years of temporary contracts, I approached the Prudential and am paying more money than I would have previously. I am also planning to live with my new partner -but as both of us will be on temporary academic contracts and most probably in different cities, we cannot decide how viable that is going to be.

After setting up an MA programme, I was threatened with the sack if I did not take on the responsibilities of more senior members of staff. I have lived with this threat for two years, knowing that my job can be redefined at a whim and that if I do not do it my contract will not be renewed.

I am currently in dispute with the university over my treatment.

Anne Monaghan Sheffield University

It's impossible to plan your personal life. I can't risk planning a holiday, buying major items or making any major alterations to my house. Planning for the following year at work is also difficult. I'm about to engage in research connected to my teaching, but is there any point? My job may be chopped over the summer.

The insecurity and worry is terrible. I am on my own. The stress surfaces at key points in the year when decisions are taken. I have over the past two years developed palpitations and eczema, which have needed medical attention. My doctor put these down to stress.

There is also the constant worry about my pension. I am nearly 50 and have very little pension from the university so far. I desperately need some security for the next ten or 15 years.

Mark Erickson Birmingham University

The attitude of universities is that you get the money in and we reward you with shabby treatment. I know my performance is always being judged and my future depends on it. People work 18-hour days to complete research proposals while also looking for other jobs. Three to six-month contracts can go on for five years or more. It is highly exploitative.

Anne Morgan Sheffield University

My contract is due to end next year. This is my first two-year contract with the university as a health economist. I have a second job with the university - deputy warden at halls of residence. The contract is for five years and involves living on site.

If my research contract is not renewed, I will have to resign from my deputy warden's post and find somewhere else to live. This is my biggest concern. My job as a health economist is quite specialised and it would be difficult to find employment without moving.

Gargi Bhattacharyya Birmingham University

The worst thing is the feeling that you are expendable, that they can easily let you go. I feel as if I've never established myself in the workplace. They can keep you hanging on. They don't invest in you or your career development.

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