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Russell Group universities worst offenders when it comes to insecure contracts

16 November 2016

The UK's elite universities are the worst offenders when it comes to employing academics on precarious contracts reveals new analysis released today. Three-fifths (59%) of academics at the research-intensive Russell Group of universities are employed on insecure contracts, compared to an average of 53% across UK higher education.

% of academic staff on insecure contracts by mission group
Mission group % of academic staff on insecure contracts
Russell Group58.5%
Other Pre-9255.6%
Average 53.2% 

UCU, who compiled the analysis, said there needed to be much clearer data to properly expose the full extent of teaching performed by staff with no job security.

It said that, as students take on record levels of debt, universities should make public how many staff they employ on insecure contracts and what percentage of undergraduate teaching is undertaken by non-permanent staff.

A report by the union last year found that almost a fifth (17%) of university staff on insecure contracts said that they struggled to pay for food and a third (34%) said that they struggled to pay rent or mortgage repayments. A similar amount (36%) said that they struggled to pay household bills like fuel, electricity, water and repairs.

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'For too long universities have relied on an army of insecure workers and our most elite institutions are the worst offenders. For thousands of staff precarious contracts are a grim reality where they don't know if they'll have a job next year or even what their income might be next month.

'Great teachers need great support to thrive, yet some of the world's most respected universities are treating their staff little better than Sports Direct. Students taking on record levels of debt have a right to know if they are being taught by full-time secure staff, and staff have a right to dignity at work.

'Universities can't hide any longer on this issue. They need to make public the data that shows how much undergraduate teaching is undertaken by non-permanent staff and they need to work with us to create better jobs for their hard-working staff.'

UCU says the current figures do not tell the full story because the paucity of data does not reveal what types of contracts the staff are on, which it says universities have exploited to play down the issue. 

The union used the latest data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency to work out the percentage of staff employed on fixed-term and 'atypical' contracts. However, as HESA does not collect data on the length or type of contracts, or on the use of hourly-paid staff or those on zero-hours contracts, universities are not forced to report their data in a consistent or helpful manner.


Last updated: 18 February 2022