UK universities shift to teaching-only contracts ahead of REF

Latest Hesa data reveal universities where teaching-only numbers have increased the most

March 14, 2019

A number of UK universities appear to have made significant shifts towards classing many more academics as “teaching only”, figures reveal.

Data released by the Higher Education Statistics Agency show that about a fifth of institutions have increased the share of full-time teaching-only academics by 5 percentage points or more since 2015. Twelve universities now class at least a quarter of full-time academics in such terms.

The figures could fuel concerns that the rise in the use of teaching-only contracts is a response to the next research excellence framework, which is set to use the type of role as the main basis for whether staff must be entered. Universities will be expected to submit research for academics classed as “teaching and research” or research-only, but not those in teaching-only roles; moving academics who are perceived to be underperforming on to such contracts would be a way of improving an institution’s ratings.

Overall, 12.3 per cent of full-time academics were classed as teaching only in 2017-18, up from 9.6 per cent in 2014-15.

Of institutions employing more than 100 full-time academics in 2017-18, 11 saw the proportion of staff classed as teaching only rise by at least 10 percentage points, with the share climbing by more than 50 points at two, the University of the Arts London and the University of Gloucestershire.

Of UAL’s 490 full-time academics in 2014-15, 90 were classed as teaching only, but this had risen to 450 out of a total of 550 (more than 80 per cent of staff) by 2017-18. Gloucestershire now has 58 per cent of its full-time staff classed as teaching only after moving from having 10 teaching-only academics to 180 over the period.

Although research-intensive universities were much more likely to submit staff to the last REF, the data show that some of these institutions have also been increasing their teaching-only numbers by relatively large amounts.

Queen Mary University of London had 105 full-time academics classed as teaching only in 2014-15 (representing 6.5 per cent of all staff), a figure that had risen to 245 in 2017-18 (13.2 per cent).

All three institutions were asked by Times Higher Education about the extent to which the approaching REF played a role in the changes, but none addressed this issue. A formal proposal that all research-active staff be submitted to REF 2021 first emerged in July 2016 as a recommendation of the review chaired by Lord Stern.

A spokesman for the University and College Union said that the figures raised serious questions about the potential for universities to “game the system”. Taken alongside the recent decision by research funders to allow universities to submit the work of staff who had been made redundant, it was “little wonder staff have little confidence in the REF”, he said.

A UAL spokeswoman said that its figures reflected the results of efforts, started in April 2016, to ensure that staff “were coded appropriately” for Hesa purposes. Only staff on the university’s research excellence “pathway” – classed as being active in teaching and research – are required to publish scholarship.

Gloucestershire said that it had “devoted significant time and effort” to “improving the clarity, completeness and consistency of our staff record, so that it more accurately reflects the actual profile of our academic staff”.

A Queen Mary spokesman said that it was committed to “ensuring fair and appropriate employment practices for all our staff”, and added that the Hesa figures on full-time teaching-only staff were “comparable with much of the rest of the Russell Group”.


Print headline: Teaching-only contracts on the rise as REF approaches

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Reader's comments (2)

I don't see the point of asking these universities for comment - besides a disingenuous response, are we expecting them to admit that there are making preparations to game the next REF assessment?
It’s not just the REF. Many universities have expanded the number of students. This means more need for teaching. A better measure would be teaching only staff-student ratio. Check wether these have changed over the years and how many of the teaching only staff were hired as ‘teaching only’ and how many were moved from the research pathway into the teaching pathway. That would give a better picture of strategic changes.