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New research guidelines will penalise female academics, union warns

6 September 2011

UCU today warned that new guidelines for university research will penalise female academics who take maternity leave.

Under the draft proposals, which are part of the six year Research Excellence Framework (REF) exercise, female researchers who take maternity leave will still be expected to produce the same number of high quality research publications as their colleagues.

The union said the new guidelines, which are being proposed by the UK higher education funding bodies*, had failed to understand the pressures of giving birth and looking after young children and would damage female researchers' career prospects.

The union added that while there had been some progress on reducing the workload and pressure for early career and part-time workers, the new rules were a backward step for those wanting to take maternity and adoption leave.

UCU today called on the funding bodies to adopt an alternative approach and allow the number of research publications to be reduced by one for each period of maternity and adoption leave.

The union pointed to the fact that female academics already face an uphill battle in the workplace with fewer female professors and a large gender pay gap.

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'We are pleased that some progress has been made in helping early career and part-time researchers. However, these new proposals are a backward step when it comes to maternity and adoption leave. Giving birth or adopting a child is a very demanding time and it is unfair to expect researchers in this situation to produce the same amount of high quality publications as their other peers. The funding councils should be looking to reduce this burden.

'Female academics are already competing on an unlevel playing field and these new maternity guidelines will only compound things further. The REF is really important for people's career prospects and creating this extra barrier for women looking to have children risks entrenching inequality.'


* The funding bodies looking to introduce the new guidelines are: Higher Education Funding Council for England; Scottish Funding Council; Higher Education Funding Council for Wales; and Department for Employment and Learning, Northern Ireland

Last updated: 11 December 2015