The UK’s research-intensive universities offer more generous maternity leave packages than their teaching-oriented contemporaries, according to a study that highlights evidence of a clear divide in academics’ parental rights.
In a paper due to be published at the end of this month, Vera Troeger, professor of quantitative political economy at the University of Warwick, and Mariaelisa Epifanio, lecturer in politics at the University of Liverpool, suggest that research-focused institutions such as those in the Russell Group often allow female employees who are expecting children more time off at full salary as part of a strategic move to retain their best workers.
The researchers name the universities of Manchester, Oxford and Southampton as being among the most generous employers, each offering soon-to-be mothers 26 weeks’ leave at full salary.
At the other end of the scale sit a number of smaller or specialist institutions, which offer no weeks off at full salary. These include, according to the study, Leeds Beckett University and the University of Bolton.
Dame Athene Donald, master of Churchill College, Cambridge, and the university’s former gender equality champion, said that she was “not surprised” by the findings, since research-intensive universities have “so much invested in each individual”.
“If a PI [principal investigator] leaves with a research group in place, it can have extremely negative consequences both for the students or postdocs involved and in the institution’s relationships with funders,” Dame Athene said.
Much of the variation in benefits can be attributed to terms of employment, which “vary massively between universities”, she added. “It isn’t just that the teaching-focused universities use fixed-term (and often very short-term) contracts but I believe they also sometimes offer essentially zero-hours contracts.
“However, it is unrealistic to expect a rapid transformation with the financial pressures [universities] across the board are feeling, however desirable this is on all fronts.”
Bolton is highlighted as one of 15 institutions to offer zero weeks with full salary replacement beyond the statutory government maternity benefit – about £140 per week – an issue that a spokeswoman attributed to a “lack of affordability”.
“The University of Bolton...recognises the importance of family-friendly practices in the recruitment and retention of high-calibre colleagues,” the spokeswoman said. “We do offer our staff maternity pay above the statutory minimum, [however] we are a relatively small [provider] and do not have the financial resources that many of the larger [universities] have.”
According to the study, research-intensive universities with a small student-to-staff ratio were found to be five times as generous in their maternity provisions as teaching-orientated providers with a larger number of students to every staff member.
“Highly research-intense institutions have a vested interest in keeping productive mothers in whom they have invested resources both at the hiring stage as well as during their employment at the university,” the authors state. “Better maternity provisions are seen as a reward and a means to keep mothers productive and satisfied with a work environment that allows them to dedicate time to their research.”
If more teaching-oriented institutions – often younger universities with a substantially smaller available cash flow – improved their maternity packages, they would have “an incentive to screen new hires more thoroughly by means of fixed-term contracts, because hiring processes are somewhat less focused on research productivity”, they argue.
Professor Troeger said that female academics at research-focused universities “were helped to climb the career ladder”, making them more likely to stay in employment for longer.
While she acknowledged that research intensity is “not the only factor” affecting generosity of maternity leave pay, “the current variation in occupational pay can be deemed unfair”, she concluded.
The study also found that institutions with a relatively high proportion of female professors offered three times the number of weeks of full salary replacement, on average, compared with universities where only a small number of women were promoted that far.
Nicole Janz, assistant professor in international relations at the University of Nottingham and one of the academic mothers who participated in the study, said that she felt “under pressure” to go back to work before she felt ready.
“When you are in the job market, of course you look at the department, the team, the place... but then if you are a women you are almost forced to look at the maternity benefits alongside this,” she told Times Higher Education. “It really makes you think twice about which job you want if you also want to have a family.”
The data on occupational maternity provisions for 214 different packages across 160 different UK higher education institutions were collected in 2015. Professor Troeger said that it was unlikely that there had been any major changes since.
Generosity of maternity leave at UK campuses
Number of weeks’ full salary replacement under occupational maternity pay in UK higher education institutions
None – 15 packages
University of Bolton, Conservatoire for Dance and Drama, Edge Hill University, Falmouth University, Guildhall School of Music and Drama, Leeds Beckett University, Leeds College of Music, Norwich University of the Arts, Queen Margaret University, Ravensbourne, Royal Agricultural University
Four – 51 packages
University of the Arts London, Bath Spa University, University of Bedfordshire, Bishop Grosseteste University, Bucks New University, Canterbury Christ Church University, Cardiff Metropolitan University, Central School of Speech and Drama, University of Chester, University of Chichester, Coventry University, University for the Creative Arts, Falmouth University, University of Glamorgan [now part of the University of South Wales], University of Gloucestershire, Harper Adams University, University of Hertfordshire, University of Huddersfield, Leeds Trinity University, University of Lincoln, Liverpool Hope University, Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts, Liverpool John Moores University, London Metropolitan University, London South Bank University, Northumbria University, Plymouth Marjon University, Plymouth University, University of Portsmouth, Rose Bruford College, Royal Academy of Music, Royal College of Music, Royal Northern College of Music, St Mary's University College, St Mary's University, Twickenham, Stranmillis University College, Teesside University, Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, University of Wales (Newport) [now part of the University of South Wales], University of West London, University of Wolverhampton, University of Worcester,
Six – 27 packages
Anglia Ruskin University, Arts University Bournemouth, Arts University Bournemouth, Bournemouth University, University of Bradford, The University of Brighton, City, University of London, University of Cumbria, De Montfort University, University of Derby, Falmouth University, Manchester Metropolitan University, Nottingham Trent University, Newman University, University of Northampton, Roehampton University, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Southampton Solent University, Staffordshire University, Swansea Metropolitan University [now part of University of Wales Trinity Saint David], University of Westminster, University of Winchester, University of the West of England, Writtle University College, York St John University
Eight – 38 packages
Aberystwyth University, Bangor University, University of Bath, Birmingham City University, University of Bristol, Brunel University London, Cranfield University, University of Dundee, University of Durham, University of East Anglia, University of Edinburgh, University of Essex, University of Exeter, University of Glasgow, Goldsmiths, University of London, Heriot-Watt University, University of Hull, Imperial College London, University of Leeds, University of Leicester, University of Liverpool, University of London, University of Kent, University of Nottingham, Royal Veterinary College, St George’s, University of London, University of Stirling, University of Strathclyde, University of Suffolk, University of Surrey, University of Sussex, Swansea University, University of Warwick, University of the West of Scotland
10 – one package
University of East London
13 – nine packages
Abertay University, University of Central Lancashire, Edinburgh Napier University, Oxford Brookes University, Manchester Metropolitan University, Robert Gordon University, University of Surrey, Wrexham Glyndwr University
16 – 14 packages
University of Bristol, University of Durham, University of Edinburgh, University of Glasgow, Glasgow School of Art, Imperial College London, The University of Kent, University of Leeds, University of St Andrews, University of Stirling, University of Strathclyde, University of Warwick, University of the West of Scotland, UCL Institute of Education
17 – one package
18 – 17 packages
University of Aberdeen, University of Birmingham, Brunel University London, University of Cambridge, Cardiff University, Courtauld Institute of Art, University of East London, Edinburgh College of Art, Heythrop College, University of Hull, Imperial College London, Keele University, King's College London, Lancaster University, Liverpool Hope University, London Business School, London School of Economics, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Loughborough University, Middlesex University, Newcastle University, The Open University, Queen Mary University of London, Queen's University Belfast, University of Reading, Royal Holloway, University of London, University of Salford, University of Sheffield, Soas, University of London, University of Sussex, University of York, UCL, Ulster University, University of the Highlands and Islands
19 – one package
Glasgow Caledonian University
Source: Analysis of 214 maternity packages at 160 higher education institutions in "An assessment of maternity leaves across UK universities", by V. Troeger and M. Epifanio, forthcoming.