Teaching-only contracts up again as REF approaches

Almost a third of staff in UK higher education are now classed as teaching-only

January 24, 2020
Source: Alamy

Almost a third of UK academics are now on teaching-only contracts as the share of staff on such terms increased again last year ahead of the next research excellence framework.

The latest staff data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency show that 31 per cent of academics were classed as teaching-only in 2018-19, a rise of 2 percentage points on the year before.

Figures suggest that the proportion of staff on such contracts has been climbing since 2015-16, when plans to submit all research-active staff to the REF first emerged. Just over a quarter of academics were on teaching-only contracts before this rise began.

Part-time staff are much more likely to be on teaching-only terms, but the shift towards such deals has been the same for full-time academics, too: 14 per cent were classed as teaching-only last year, a rise from 12 per cent the year before. For part-time staff, the share was 63 per cent in 2018-19, again up 2 percentage points on the year before.

Women are more likely than men to be on teaching-only terms, even after allowing for the fact that more female academics work part-time. Among full-time female academics, 16 per cent were classed as teaching-only last year; for full-time male academics, the figure was 12 per cent.

The Hesa data were released as Research England published figures showing that 22,500 more academics – measured by full-time equivalent – are set to be entered into the 2021 REF because of new rules that require all staff with “significant responsibility for research” to be submitted.

In practice, anyone with a teaching-only contract will not have to be entered, a key reason why it has been suggested that institutions are moving staff perceived to be underperforming in research to teaching-only contracts.

Last year, an analysis by Times Higher Education based on 2017-18 figures found that about a fifth of universities had substantially increased their share of academics on teaching-only contracts, while 12 institutions had a quarter of full-time staff on teaching-only terms.

Elsewhere, the latest Hesa staff statistics showed that the rise in the share of professors who are female increased by a percentage point again in 2018-19 to reach 27 per cent, while for “other senior academics” the female share rose to 38 per cent from 36 per cent. Overall numbers of black academics grew by 11 per cent, but they still represent just 2 per cent of all academic staff.

In total, the Hesa data showed there were just under 440,000 members of staff employed in UK higher education in 2018-19, an increase of 2 per cent from the year before.

The number of part-time contracts was up a percentage point more than full-time contracts, while the share of full-time academic staff on fixed-term contracts also rose slightly, to 25.3 per cent from 24.9 per cent.

The number of staff classed as “atypical” – which includes those employed for one-off tasks, for a short amount of time or in roles “that involve a high degree of flexibility” – also increased, by 2 per cent, after having fallen in previous years.

But specific figures on the number of zero-hours contracts, which include only “typical” staff, showed a drop, from about 11,400 in 2017-18 to 7,000 in 2018-19.

With Brexit now imminent, the data also showed that the share of academics from other European Union countries remained stable in 2018-19 at 17.5 per cent of total numbers.


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