A new department overseeing hourly paid academic staff at the University of Warwick has caused concern among union officials and postgraduates who teach, as well as raising questions over whether it could be rolled out to other institutions.
The academic services department at Warwick, called TeachHigher, aims to establish a more consistent approach to the employment of hourly paid research and teaching staff who work in different departments across the institution.
The University and College Union said that it was “very concerned” by the step, which it argued could leave workers with less favourable employment terms and conditions.
Under a pilot programme, TeachHigher will consult initially with seven Warwick departments to get a better understanding of the hourly paid roles they use and then develop a system that will come into force in the next academic year.
A Warwick spokesman said that TeachHigher would improve existing processes for hourly paid academic staff.
The new department will offer a “fair, transparent and consistent approach to recruitment and remuneration” as well as “a structured, tailored approach to professional development”, he said. Pay rates will be derived from nationally agreed framework scales for higher education, and those employed by TeachHigher would have the same rights as current hourly paid staff, he added.
However, Anne O’Sullivan, regional official at UCU West Midlands, said: “We remain very concerned…It has not been made clear how staff will be paid, graded or whether they will have employee status.”
Warwick Employment Group, which “supports” TeachHigher, runs several national higher education recruitment businesses, including Unitemps – a temporary employment agency for catering and other service staff that began at Warwick but is now franchised to 10 other UK institutions.
The campaign group Fighting Against Casualisation in Education claimed that TeachHigher was “a national company, which intends to be rolled out across UK universities”.
A fourth-year PhD student who teaches at Warwick told Times Higher Education of concern about the potential creation of “a divide between casualised and permanent staff”. The student had previously been employed by Unitemps to teach in the Student Careers and Skills academic writing programme at Warwick when they took part in industrial action organised by the UCU. After that, the student claimed, the position was terminated. The student expressed fears that similar things could happen with those working for TeachHigher if they did not hold employment contracts directly with the university.
A spokesman for Warwick said that he was “not aware” of the student’s case.
He added that there was “nothing preventing current or future hourly paid staff joining unions or taking industrial action” and denied claims circulating on social media that TeachHigher is a separate or subsidiary company.