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UCU calls for improvements to working conditions of university research staff

Action is needed to reduce the use of fixed-term contracts for researchers and to ensure they can access professional development opportunities, the University and College Union (UCU) said today.

Responding to the publication of a revised Researcher Development Concordat, the union said research staff should be employed on open-ended, rather than fixed-term contracts. Two-thirds (68%) of researchers are on fixed-term contracts, while many others on 'open-ended' contracts have a fixed-funding end date which leaves them at risk of dismissal.

The union said the huge levels of casualisation in universities was bad for staff and bad for students. A recent union report revealed the toll that a lack of job security has on staff with seven in 10 saying insecure contracts had damaged their mental health and eight in 10 researchers said their work had been negatively affected by being on a short-term contract.

The revised Concordat states that institutions must seek to improve job security for researchers, 'through more effective redeployment processes and greater use of open ended contracts', but the union said universities should be obliged to work with trade unions to reduce the use of fixed-term contracts. The union said it was disappointed that UCU-backed proposals to allow 20% of a researcher's time for professional development have been left out of the revised concordat, which instead calls for 10 days pro rata, per year.

UCU head of higher education Paul Bridge said: 'Whilst we welcome the new Concordat as an improvement on previous versions, we feel an opportunity has been missed to tackle job insecurity and the continued use of fixed-term contracts. The endemic use of precarious contracts in universities is damaging for staff and students and the overwhelming majority of researchers complain that their work has been impacted by being on short-term contracts. Institutions should be obliged to work with trade unions to reduce the use of fixed-term contracts.

'We are disappointed that the recommendations call for only 10 days of professional development time for researchers, instead of 20% as originally proposed. Professional development is an essential in part of a researcher's career and benefits staff, students and the sector as a whole.'