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UCEA expresses disappointment on continued misleading use of atypical contracts data

21 November 2016

Helen Fairfoul, Chief Executive of UCEA said:

“The quality of very many programmes at HE institutions today is frequently enhanced by input from skilled professionals contributing specialist teaching on specific courses. Such input is hugely valued by students and may also be essential for the programme’s accreditation. Such individuals’ highly-valued input is included in what the UCU counts as a “casual contract” with many only contributing a few hours in a year. So UCU’s use of a ‘headcount’ for the sector’s “casual” staff gives a very misleading picture of the student experience. As HESA* has also pointed out, the data (2014-15) for these ‘atypical’ academic staff show 75,560 contracts but only 3.2% of the full-time equivalent academic workforce, down from 3.7% in 2011-12.
“HE institutions do have fixed-term employment, as well as open-ended; like any employer it is essential that they retain the ability to operate with part of their workforce in a flexible mode to enable them to adjust and respond to changes in demand. The variability in student enrolments on programmes and features of academic life such as sabbaticals and research leave for permanent staff, mean that fixed-term opportunities to teach, generally for a year or a semester, are made available. HE institutions also reserve teaching opportunities for their graduate students, for whom it is an important part of their professional development. Nearly half (46.4%) of fixed-term academic work in universities is actually in the realm of contract research work financed by time-limited external funding. Looking at the data again for individuals involved in teaching, and leaving out the misleading count for ‘atypicals’, 75% of employees are on open-ended contracts; this number has in fact been steadily rising.
“UCU has understandably been campaigning on this front but their use of the data to suggest what they do is not helpful. It is very disappointing to see this misuse of the data repeated without examination in the media**. One of the things we do agree on is that the sector-level data do not tell us everything about contractual arrangements in the core HE workforce. UCEA and the HE trade unions – including UCU – have set out a number of requests on the staff data collection to be presented to HESA this month that we believe could improve our mutual understanding in this important area.

“There will in a workforce of this size perhaps inevitably be some individuals who are not happy with their contractual arrangements; this is precisely the kind of issue where we would expect a trade union to intervene. UCEA of course cannot comment on individual cases; that is for the employing HE institution. UCEA and the trade unions did however produce a major joint report*** in July 2015 that reflected on the kinds of issues raised by the trade unions and pointed to some effective practices in addressing these that we found within HE institutions. What UCEA has offered to do this year as part the pay settlement for 2016-17**** is once again work with all the HE trade unions, this time on producing some new materials aimed at helping managers in their planning and decision-making around the engagement of people on fixed-term arrangements, including considerations around their support and induction.”


Workforce measure Academic staff Atypical academic contracts Total Atypical as % of total
Contract count 198,335 75,560 273,895  27.6%
Full-time equivalent 157,940 5,155 163,095 3.2%

Source: HESA, 2014-15.


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