UP TO 2,000 nurse tutors in higher education are being forced to work more hours in less favourable conditions than their colleagues, say the Royal College of Nursing and Natfhe, the lecturers' union.
Some nurse tutors have no time for research and scholarship, benefits that were supposed to arise from nursing becoming a graduate career. This hampers a nurse tutor's development.
The problem arises because some institutes try to control costs by keeping nurse tutors on less favourable contracts, say the unions. Periodically, each institute must tender for the renewal of its contract with the National Health Service and by keeping costs low, an institute can undercut a rival.
"It is in nobody's interest to plan workloads so health educators have no time for research and scholarship," said Tom Wilson of Natfhe. "No institute should try to undermine another on this basis."
A national deal limits the number of hours taught by lecturers in the new universities to 550 per year. But many nurse tutors work longer. For example, only 17 per cent of institutes included the clinical supervision of students in a nurse tutor's teaching hours, said Josie Erwin of the RCN.
The problem is disguised by the 45-week academic year for nursing, which is much longer than for other subjects. This helps to hide the problem by bringing the working week for nurse tutors into line with tutors in other subjects.
Some institutes acknowledge the problem, said Adrian Jones, Natfhe's north of England universities official. But they claim that they are caught in a funding vicious circle which stops them from treating nurse lecturers fairly, he said.
Institutes contacted by The THES said that nurse tutors could be on different contracts from other academics but that they had not received any complaints about working hours. But many nurse tutors dare not complain because they are on short-term contracts and fear that these will not be renewed, said Mr Jones. Others are told that if they insist on the same conditions as other lecturers, the college will no longer be competitive enough to win contracts. Another argument is that any increased costs will have to be paid for through redundancies, he said.
"Institutes should sit down with Natfhe and negotiate a sensible way forward," said Mr Wilson.