Staff numbers on open-ended academic contracts have increased

14 December 2018

The higher education (HE) sector's biggest academic employment growth is in open-ended and full-time contracts, according to UCEA's 2018 Higher Education Workforce Report*. These new findings, examining the fastest growing types of contract over the past five years, are contrary to claims and media coverage that the sector has become more reliant on casual and fixed-term contracts for academic staff**.

Open-ended and full-time academic contracts have increased at three times the rate of fixed-term contracts (18.5% and 6.3% respectively) between 2011-12 and 2016-17. The number of atypical (casual) contracts has fallen significantly both in terms of total number (-12.3%) and full-time equivalence (-3.9%). There has also been a 17.4% increase in full-time academic staff compared to a 7.8% increase in part-time staff.

The report also highlights the vital contribution made by EU and other international staff to the UK HE sector. While the proportion of academic staff from the EU is high at 17.3%, this figure is higher still for early career academic staff with 22.8% from other EU countries at research assistant level and 19.4% at lecturer/research fellow level.

At subject specific level, more than a third of academic staff in economics and modern languages are from other EU countries and more than a quarter in chemical engineering, maths, physics and politics. While the proportion of EU staff in professional services roles is lower at 6.4%, it is much higher in lower grades. UCEA and other sector bodies continue to press the need for a future immigration system that supports the sector's ability to recruit and retain the talent required to deliver our globally competitive HE system.

The UCEA report also provides the latest data on staff turnover. The new figures confirm the total employee turnover in the sector (10.6%) remains at less than half of turnover in the wider economy (22.8%) and significantly lower than in the public sector (15.7%). The sector's 6.9% voluntary turnover rate is also considerably lower than both the wider economy (19%) and the public sector (12.9%). Furthermore, turnover rates for academic staff (8.3% total and 5.1% voluntary) specifically are lower than for staff in professional services (12.3% and 8.2% respectively).

Chief Executive Helen Fairfoul said:
“It is pleasing to see continued growth in the HE workforce and that this growth is strongest in open-ended and full-time contracts. Sector employers have been addressing concerns surrounding casual employment and we see a range of work taking place in institutions, often in partnership with their trade unions. As HE institutions strive to provide an attractive employment deal with competitive pay, we continue to see low levels of turnover among both academic and professional services staff."

*UCEA's Higher Education Workforce Report 2018

** New JNCHES - Hourly Paid and Casual Staff Working Group Report is a report of joint work between the trade unions and employers looking at hourly-paid and casual staff

Also see The Higher Education Workforce Survey 2017 report

The next full Workforce Survey will be published in July 2019 and will feature an analysis of 2017-18 HESA data.

Also see UCEA's infographics on employment contracts in the HE sector

For further information: Please contact Andy Fryer Head of Communications and Membership ( or Marc Whittaker Communications and Events Manager ( on 020 7383 2444.