Universities ‘most reliant’ on teaching-only staff named

Several research-intensive universities are on list, but many institutions dispute the findings

March 15, 2016
Teacher speaking at front of classroom
Source: Alamy

The UK universities that are “relying most” on teaching-only staff have been named by a group campaigning against casualisation in the higher education workforce amid a growing row over whether different types of employment contract should be used to assess teaching quality.

Birkbeck, University of London tops the list of higher education institutions using teaching-only staff, with 33 per cent of its academic staff on junior-grade teaching-only contracts, compared with a sector average of 9 per cent, according to the Fighting Against Casualisation in Education (Face) pressure group.

Birkbeck is followed by the University of West London (32 per cent), Soas, University of London and the University of Kent (both 29 per cent) and the University of Essex and the London School of Economics (both 25 per cent) as those using the most teaching-only staff.

The data were provided to Face by the Higher Education Statistics Agency and show the number of non-clinical, teaching-only staff with at least a master’s degree who were employed as a teaching assistant or fellow in the 2014-15 academic year, as a proportion of all academic staff.

Their publication follows objections by several sector bodies, including Universities UK, over proposals outlined in this month’s government grant letter on funding for English higher education that “the contractual status of academic staff” could be used as a metric in the forthcoming teaching excellence framework.

A Face spokesman said that the group had published the figures because, while there was “nothing intrinsically wrong with teaching-only contracts”, those employed on these terms are “disproportionately likely to face the negative effects of casualisation”.

These included a lack of payment during holidays, a lack of payments regarding time spent marking or doing administrative duties or exposure to future outsourcing, he added.

There was also a “hypocrisy issue” because almost all universities on its list were regarded as research-intensive institutions “which sell themselves to applicants on the basis of their research-led teaching”, he added.

However, Birkbeck disputed Face’s claims over high rates of casualisation, saying the group’s comparison was “misleading” as it did not reflect its “unique model of predominantly part-time, evening only courses”.

These courses were often taught by part-time staff “who are reported to Hesa as ‘typical’; whereas most institutions record part-time staff as ‘atypical’, rendering them invisible in this data”, a spokesman said.

Part-time staff on fractional contracts had “harmonised” pay and conditions with full-time staff, while a quarter of teaching-only staff had more than five years’ continuous service, which was a “testament to Birkbeck’s positive working environment and excellent conditions we offer”,  he added.

The University of Essex said its high position reflected its subject mix and that it was doing much to reduce casualisation, while it was in the top 20 for intensity weighted research excellence.

Teaching-only staff were recruited only when they could “enhance the educational experience of our students”, primarily in specialist courses in modern languages and those in its East 15 Acting School and International Academy, an Essex spokesman added.

Kent also said that its inclusion was misleading because many teaching-only staff are graduate students awarded formal contracts, including training hours, which did not happen at many other universities.

Of the other institutions, an LSE spokesman said it did not recognise the figures, claiming only 10 per cent of staff were on teaching-only contracts, and Soas said they were misleading because it provided “more language teaching than virtually any other UK university”, a subject usually taught by teaching-only staff.

Some 51,970 academics, mainly part-time, were employed on teaching-only contracts in 2014-15, latest figures show, although the actual number is likely to be far higher as this total excludes PhD students without a formal contract and those classed as “atypical” workers because they are either self-employed or recruited via an agency.


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Print headline: Institutions ‘most reliant’ on teaching-only staff named

Reader's comments (1)

I'm really uncomfortable with the conflation of 'teaching only' and 'casualised' staff. I'm a permanent teaching fellow, and whilst there are issues around career progression and parity of esteem they are completely different issues to those surrounding casualisation. Teaching focused staff, properly recognised and rewarded, can have a key role to play in driving up standards of teaching across the sector. Why make the odd assumption that they are worse for students by lumping them together with part time casualised staff?

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