Warwick leads Russell Group in use of atypical contracts

More than half of staff at university that tried to launch TeachHigher are employed on such deals

June 25, 2015
A contract and a pen
Source: iStock

The university that tried to launch a controversial services department for employing hourly paid teaching staff has the highest proportion of atypical contracts in the Russell Group, according to one measure of Higher Education Statistic Agency data.

More than half the University of Warwick’s academic staff had atypical contracts in 2013‑14, new figures suggest.

But the university said that the figures are “meaningless” because institutions take different approaches to reporting data about the number of such staff.

Warwick came under fire recently for planning a new academic services department, called TeachHigher, to oversee the employment of hourly paid teaching staff. It scrapped the controversial plans earlier this month ahead of a campus protest called to coincide with an undergraduate open day.

But the latest data, released to Times Higher Education by Hesa and based on the number of staff on each type of contract, reveals that 56 per cent of academic staff employed by Warwick had atypical worker agreements. More than 2,720 academic staff had atypical contracts in 2013-14, compared with 2,130 other more standard contracts.

Michael MacNeil, national head of bargaining and negotiations at the University and College Union, said that a “very high proportion” of atypical staff will be casual teaching staff, including PhD students who teach. This is “not a good way to regularly employ front-line teaching staff, and it’s not the best way of ensuring a good student experience”, he said.

The UCU welcomed Warwick’s decision to abandon TeachHigher, he continued, but it “remains concerned at such widespread use of casual and insecure worker contracts to deliver front-line teaching”.

Atypical contracts “carry fewer employment rights” than employee contracts and make “teaching staff very vulnerable”, Mr MacNeil said.

A spokesman for Warwick said that when the numbers of atypical staff are presented as a proportion of full-time equivalents, just 9 per cent of academics are on such contracts. He added that some institutions report to Hesa only atypical staff who work for four weeks or less, whereas Warwick includes all atypical staff.

“These two very different approaches to reporting these data obviously make any comparison or table from these data fairly meaningless,” he said.

However, a spokesman for Hesa said that it had no notes to reflect that Warwick’s data practices differ from those of other institutions.

Other Russell Group universities with a high proportion of academic staff on atypical contracts measured by headcount include Queen’s University Belfast, with 51 per cent, and the universities of Birmingham and Manchester, each with 50 per cent.

At the other end of the scale, King’s College London had not reported having any academic staff on atypical contracts, while Imperial College London and the University of Cambridge reported just 2 per cent each.

The University of Birmingham called the percentage figure for atypical staff misleading because it “fails to take account of the number of hours worked by atypical workers”. It said that such staff included exam invigilators and laboratory demonstrators who work only a few hours each year at the institution. It added that by the FTE measure, less than 6 per cent of staff had atypical contracts in 2013‑14.

A University of Manchester spokesman said that its atypical staff equated to 350 FTEs, or 3.7 per cent of the total workforce.

holly.else@tesglobal.com

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POSTSCRIPT:

Article originally published as: Warwick leads the Russell Group in its use of atypical contracts (25 June 2015)

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