Teaching-only contracts: 20,000 moved on to terms in five years

Growth of academics on such terms precedes pandemic and REF census

January 19, 2021
teaching and learning
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The rise in the use of teaching-only contracts in the UK hit a new high last year, with about 20,000 more academics employed on such terms compared with five years ago, the latest data show.

According to a fresh set of figures on university staff from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (Hesa), 32.4 per cent of the academic workforce in the country were employed on a teaching-only basis in 2019-20, up almost 2 percentage points on the year before.

The share has been rising consistently since 2015-16, something that has been attributed to the upcoming research excellence framework and its policy that all research-active staff should be submitted for assessment. It is thought that some universities have been employing more academics on teaching-only terms to restrict the number of submitted staff to those with the best research records.

In absolute numbers, there were more than 72,000 academics employed on teaching-only terms last year, compared with about 52,000 in 2015-16. Numbers are rapidly gaining ground on the most common type of contract in the sector – teaching and research – which has remained relatively stable in the past few years at just under 100,000 academics.

Most of those employed on teaching-only contacts are part-time staff and more than half are women, although the share of men and full-time staff on such terms has been growing year-on-year.

The Hesa statistics for the 2019-20 academic year represent the status of those employed in December 2019, before the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic and a few months before the July 2020 census date for the REF. The deadline for REF submissions has been delayed until the end of March this year.



Jo Grady, general secretary of the University and College Union, said action should be taken to “reduce the growing reliance on teaching-only contracts”.

“These contracts are often used by institutions to force staff into different roles against their will – not because the quality of their research has dropped, but simply because of perverse incentives created by the current [REF] submission rules,” she said.

Overall, the Hesa data show that there were 223,525 academics working in UK higher education last year before the pandemic, an increase of almost 6,500 staff on 2018-19. About 1,600 of these were at 31 providers that had been added to the dataset in 2019-20 because of a new way of registering institutions in England.

Other statistics in the release show that the share of professors who are women is now at 28 per cent, a figure that has been rising by roughly 1 percentage point every year since 2013-14.

The proportion of black and minority ethnic academic staff has also increased again and now stands at 18 per cent, with the number of black academics increasing by 14 per cent on the year before.

However, the UCU pointed out that there were still only 155 black professors, a rise of just 15 on the year before.

“Universities must do more to ensure a more representative mix of staff at a senior level and stop this terrible waste of talent. The pace of change is glacial, and universities need to do much more to examine and tackle the barriers that prevent women, black and disabled staff from progressing,” Dr Grady said.

Meanwhile, the data also reveal that the share of academics who are European Union citizens has fallen slightly, to 17.2 per cent from 17.5 per cent. However, the actual number has grown by about 400 academics, so the dip in the share could be due, in part, to the expanded dataset.

simon.baker@timeshighereducation.com

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Reader's comments (1)

The sad part of the story is that many who have been moved arent people who do not do any research at all, but people who have had working papers in the pipeline but nothing published in time for the REF, or people who have been publishing , but not at the top 4 or 5 journals. Rent seekers are having a field day moving around from place to place taking their one or two "top publications" with them, selling their wares to the highest bidder. Ditch this nonsense before the sector and frankly lives are destroyed. Check out the universities that to occupy the top places worldwide on any rank list, they arent at the top because of any REF or TEF.

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