All out for USS

Universities use casual staff for a quarter of teaching

5 March 2018

Some universities rely on hourly-paid staff to do as much as half of all their teaching, new analysis from the University and College Union (UCU) suggests. However, the union says the true scale of universities' reliance on an hourly-paid workforce is impossible to quantify because many refuse to hand over the data.

  • Some universities may use hourly-paid staff for up to 50% of their teaching
  • Data suggests, on average, universities use hourly-paid staff for 27% of their teaching
  • Majority of universities refuse to come clean about their use of hourly-paid teaching staff
  • Union says new regulator must compel universities to publish data on hourly-paid teaching staff

A total of 96 did not complete the union's FOI request. Thirty-six ignored the request and 60 said they did not hold the full information or it would take too long to obtain it. UCU said the newly-created Office for Students should compel universities to reveal full details on their use of hourly-paid staff.

The union submitted a Freedom of Information request to universities as it says there are no reliable figures available on institutions' use of staff on casual contracts for front line teaching. It has criticised the 3% figure used by universities as wildly inaccurate and based on flawed methodology. 

Using the data generated by the 38 universities who did return information, the union estimates that most universities use hourly-paid teachers for between 15 and 40% of their teaching, with an average of 27%.

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said: 'Where universities have been transparent, we can see there is a substantial reliance on hourly-paid, non-permanent teaching staff. But what is really unacceptable is that so many universities are keeping students in the dark about their use of hourly-paid teaching staff. It's astonishing they can brazenly claim the figure is so low and also claim not to know the basic facts about the teaching staff they employ.

'Any limitations of the data are down to the failure of universities, yet still they continue to protest that everything's fine and there's nothing to see. This is an insulting response to what is a very real issue with serious consequences for staff and students. The new Office for Students should compel universities to collect and release data on the proportion of their teaching that is being done by staff on insecure contracts.'

Staff on insecure contracts face day-to-day problems such as not having access to basic facilities, not being included in curriculum design and review, and not being paid for preparation and assessment, as well as the long-term stresses of financial hardship and lack of job security.

A report by UCU in 2015 found that 40% of university staff on insecure contracts said they earned under £1,000 a month. Almost a fifth (17%) 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.

In its FoI request, the union asked for the number of hours of scheduled learning and teaching activities delivered during the academic year 2015/16, and for the number of those hours that were delivered by hourly-paid lecturing staff.

The union then used the data supplied to generate approximate proportions, and these were then compared with other estimates in the sector to generate an estimate of around 25% across the sector.