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New report lays bare endemic use of insecure contracts in UK universities

14 April 2016

The reliance of UK universities on insecure contracts, including zero-hours contracts, is laid bare in a new report from UCU published today

The  report [503kb] finds that 54% of all academic staff, and 49% of teaching staff in UK universities are employed on insecure contracts, with the highest proportions concentrated in lower grades (below the level of senior lecturers and senior research fellow).

The report shows the percentage of teaching staff and the percentage of all academic staff employed by each university on non-permanent contracts. A large group of substantial-sized UK universities including the University of Oxford, City University London and the University of Stirling emerge amongst the worst offenders.

In January, UCU wrote to every UK university asking them to confirm their willingness to eradicate zero-hours contracts and conduct a joint review with the union on the use of insecure contracts at their institution. Just one in five universities (32 of 161) responded positively. Four out of five ignored the request or responded negatively.

The report highlights how the publicly available data on the numbers and types of insecure contracts used by universities is very poor. The report was compiled using the latest data published by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) but as it proved to be incomplete, it was supplemented with data gained from a Freedom of Information request that UCU submitted to every higher education institution in 2013.

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'The report shows that nearly half of university teaching staff are on insecure contracts - a scenario that is sure to shock university students and is far worse than universities will own up to.

'We know that someone's ability to do a good job is compromised if they are on an insecure contract. They often have poor access to basic equipment and facilities, can only get their job done by putting in unpaid hours, and are constantly stressed about future availability of work.

'This 'hire and fire' culture of insecure working at universities, particularly amongst teaching staff, needs to be urgently addressed because it is potentially a huge barrier to ensuring the future of high-quality teaching.'

Last updated: 14 April 2016