Image Credit: Luke Snell
Several universities have announced that a number of fixed term contracts for academics are now at risk and likely to end. The Financial Times has reported that many UK universities are dropping those on hourly posts and leaving temporary contracts to expire. Some universities have already reported the numbers that could be at risk with 1,100 fixed term contracts potentially at risk at King’s College, London.
The use of fixed term contracts across this sector results in lecturers seeing their contracts up for potential renewal at the end of a fixed term. This can lead to lecturers not knowing where they will be each academic year and therefore struggling to settle down in one location. Hire freezes due to the current Covid-19 pandemic means that universities are seeing budget cuts and some are now reviewing fixed term contracts on a case by case basis. For example, the University of Sheffield is due to review 116 fixed term contracts that have already expired.
This is worrying news for many lecturers as, according to the Higher Education Statistics Agency, 33 per cent of academic staff in the UK were on fixed term contracts in 2017-18. Vicky Blake, the president of the UCU told the Financial Times that universities were “pulling the rug out from under their own institutions” and that this sector is “propped up by this casualised labour.”
Nouse approached the University of York for their thoughts on the situation and their current plans regarding their own fixed term contracts, they told us:
“We recognise that fixed term contracts are used commonly across the sector and that open ended contracts offer more personal and financial stability for our staff. As a responsible employer we want to provide fair employment contracts which accurately reflect the work our staff are carrying out.”
“Before the pandemic struck, we had already made a formal commitment to review the range of employment contracts we use. We have committed to a case by a case review of each fixed term contract that is coming to an end. If the work is continuing and the individual has more than 2 years continuous service with the University, we will move them onto an open contract.”
These potential cuts will undoubtedly affect students. Unions believe cuts to academic staff will reduce the university’s available workforce. This could result in teaching groups having to be larger and workload to staff becoming greater. According to UCU, 71 per cent of casualised teachers say that they did not have enough paid time to give students the feedback they deserve. Cuts to the workforce will surely worsen this statistic.
It should be noted that current students have already experienced severe disruption due to strikes from academics over working conditions. On the 4th March during the last wave of strikes, Nouse reported that job security was already a main issue for strikers at the University of York due to the nature of the temporary contracts that stopped lecturers settling down in one location permanently. With those on fixed term contracts now facing job losses in this sector, job security is likely to become a more pressing issue for academics in the near future. The lecturers Nouse spoke to in March were all willing to strike again if necessary.
When asked how the University plans to ensure students still receive the contact hours they pay for, the university responded with: “We will continue to offer excellent teaching, learning and student support at the University of York. Our student experience is at the heart of everything we do.”