Ulster's ring-fenced posts come under fire

February 19, 2009

A university's attempts to provide job security by ring-fencing permanent posts for those on temporary contracts have been criticised.

Amid concerns about excessive casualisation in higher education, the University of Ulster established a policy to give fixed-term staff first refusal of permanent posts.

But according to an employee who raised his concerns anonymously, the policy meant vacancies could not be opened up to competition, so Ulster could not be sure it was getting the best candidates.

"The consequence is to progressively lower the quality of teaching and research staff as they can only be replenished from within, often by low-calibre fixed-term staff unable to find employment elsewhere," he said.

The approach also meant that an external funder that stipulated that all posts relating to the funded project had to be advertised externally had been misled, he added. External candidates were considered only when there were no fixed-term applicants available.

"The policy will lead to the inevitable decline of the university," the insider said.

The university refused to comment on the matter when contacted by Times Higher Education.

Lyn Fawcett, vice-chair of Ulster's University and College Union branch, confirmed that "redeployment" principles were in place, but said there were no detrimental effects.

He said: "In effect, any new or replacement post that comes on to human resources' books is ring-fenced for people in the final six months of a fixed-term contract. Built into that is an allowance for retraining as part of the redeployment, although there has not been as much of that as UCU would like to see."

He added: "It is not a matter of shutting the door (to external applicants) completely, but of ring fencing posts until the university can determine whether there is anyone internally who is interested who is also a sufficiently close match for the job," he said.

john.gill@tsleducation.com.

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