Vice-chancellors in England and Wales are making "appallingly inadequate" progress towards moving the tens of thousands of academics on fixed-term contracts to permanent jobs, the Association of University Teachers annual conference will hear this week.
In stark contrast to news last week that Scottish funding chiefs are "cautiously optimistic" that fixed-term posts are being steadily phased out north of the border, the AUT annual conference will debate a series of motions condemning the lack of progress across the UK.
A motion from the AUT's fixed-term staff group due to be discussed says employers are not preparing for the introduction in 2006 of European Union legislation. The EU regulations ensure that fixed-term staff are treated no less favourably than their permanent counterparts. Such staff should be transferred automatically to permanent contracts if they have been employed continuously in fixed-term posts for four years - unless the fixed-term contract can be "objectively justified".
Of the 46,000 research-only academics in UK universities, 93 per cent were on fixed-term contracts in 2002-03.
The motion, which is backed by the AUT executive, says: "Council is appalled by the inadequate consideration given by employers to the Fixed-Term Employees (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2002. In particular, council is dismayed that in most higher education institutions work on the transfer of fixed-term staff to permanent contracts and on ensuring that fixed-term staff are treated no less favourably than permanent staff has yet to begin."
The motion calls for a campaign to ensure that contracts are made permanent and that regulations are implemented properly.
A motion from Leeds University branch, backed by the executive, calls on the council to "monitor closely any possible impact on the renewal of existing fixed-term contracts".
Declan Leyden, deputy director of the Universities and Colleges Employers'
Association, said: "The fixed-term regulations impact on universities in three ways, and universities abide by all of them."
He added that all institutions were providing the same pay and conditions to fixed-term and permanent staff doing comparable work, as required, and that "some universities" would have transferred staff to permanent contracts "well in advance" of the July 2006 deadline.
"The regulations permit the continued use of fixed-term contracts in appropriate circumstances," he noted.
"Ucea and the unions have already issued substantial guidance in the use of fixed-term contracts, and universities take that fully into account when applying the regulations."