Fixed-term posts still the norm for researchers

November 23, 2007

UCU condemns 'unacceptable underbelly' of UK higher education. Melanie Newman reports. Just 3.5 per cent of research jobs currently advertised by universities are permanent positions, the University and College Union has found.

The UCU said that its findings show that guidance agreed with the employers to limit the employment of staff on fixed-term contracts was being ignored.

The UCU study found that there were only nine permanent positions among the 254 research jobs advertised on the <a target="_blank" href="http://www.jobs.ac.uk">www.jobs.ac.uk</a> website during November 7 and 8. Almost a third (32 per cent) of the advertised positions were contracts of a year or less, while almost a quarter (23.2 per cent) were for between 1.1 and two years.

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said: "I think it is a source of great shame for UK higher education that only the hotel and catering sector employs a greater percentage of staff on temporary contracts. The widespread use of fixed-term contracts is the unacceptable underbelly of higher education in this country."

Guidance agreed with the University and Colleges Employers Association in 2002 said that "indefinite contracts should be the normal form of employment". In 2006, new employment laws came into force that were designed to reduce the number of casual contracts by putting staff who had been on a series of short-term arrangements for more than four years on to permanent contracts.

A Ucea spokesman said: "The nature of research funding in general is that institutions often receive funding for a specific project for a specific period - many staff will be part-time PhD students or research assistants, for example."

A second UCU report, investigating the employment terms of 30,000 academics who started work in 2005, shows that more than two thirds were on fixed-term contracts.

Research staff fared the worst, with 96 per cent given fixed-term contracts, followed by teaching-only academics at 72 per cent.

According to the UCU, 15 of the 71 universities surveyed used fixed-term contracts for all teaching-only academics starting work in 2005, including Brunel, Kent, West of England, Salford, and Oxford Brookes universities. Sussex and Hertfordshire universities and the University of Wales, Newport employed 100 per cent of its teaching-only staff on permanent or open- ended contracts.

Several universities said their position had changed since 2005. Plymouth University said that its current percentage of research-only academics on fixed-term contracts is only 87 per cent. Mansoor Sarhadi, vice-principal of Brunel University, said: "We use fixed-term (hourly paid) teaching-only staff to fulfil specific teaching needs where flexibility is necessary."

Ucea said the figures did not include the impact of the full implementation of the Framework Agreement. "A survey conducted by Ucea provided the following statistics: nearly one third of institutions would be reducing the proportion of hourly paid lecturing staff on fixed-term contracts, with another 43 per cent also considering doing so," the spokesman said.

Coventry University emerged as having one of the best records, with 96 per cent of its teaching and research academics, and all of its teaching-only staff, on permanent contracts. Donald Pennington, pro vice-chancellor of Coventry, said: "It was a decision on our part to give our academic and teaching staff job security and stability and show commitment by the university to their long-term research projects."

By contrast, according to the UCU, Lancaster University employed all its teaching-only and research-only academics, and 63.3 per cent of its teaching and research staff, on fixed-term contracts.

Disputing the figures, a Lancaster spokesperson said: "Currently 11 per cent of our researchers in post are on permanent contracts, compared with just 3 per cent in 2005. The majority of teaching-only staff in post - over 60 per cent - are permanent compared with less than 50 per cent in 2005."

melanie.newman@thes.co.uk </a>

 

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