Memorandum submitted by the Association
of University Teachers
1.1 The Association of University Teachers
is the largest academic union in higher education and represents
more than 45,000 staff working in academia, research, teaching,
libraries, IT and administration. A significant proportion of
the association's membership is employed on fixed-term contracts.
1.2 The association has long been concerned
about the use and proliferation of fixed-term contracts and other
forms of casual employment in UK higher education. As such, the
association warmly welcomes the opportunity to respond to the
inquiry. We hope that, while concentrating on the particular problems
in science and engineering, the committee's report will prove
to be a highly valuable contribution to the debate about casualisation
across the entire higher education system.
1.3 In 1999 the Bett Report recommended
that there was scope for many HE institutions to reduce their
use of fixed-term and casual employment.
The scale of the problem has not reduced since the publication
of that Report and remains a major concern to the association.
In 2000-01 42 per cent of all academic staff in higher education
were employed on a fixed-term contract. This included 94 per cent
of research only staff. Last year, the proportion of research
only new entrants to the sector employed on a fixed-term contract
stood at a staggering 98 per cent.
1.4 The use of fixed-term contracts is particularly
significant for academic staff in science and technology departments.
When the proportion of staff is examined by cost centre, it is
clear these departments employ a higher percentage of academic
staff on fixed-term contracts than the national average of 42
per cent, as illustrated in the table below. The use of these
contracts has also increased since 1994-95.
PERCENTAGE OF ALL ACADEMIC STAFF ON FIXED-TERM
CONTRACTS BY COST CENTRE 1994-95 AND 2000-01
|Clinical medicine||67 per cent
||76 per cent|
|Pharmacology||68 per cent
||71 per cent|
|Biosciences||58 per cent
||63 per cent|
|Veterinary science||58 per cent
||61 per cent|
|Anatomy and physiology||60 per cent
||61 per cent|
|Physics||55 per cent
||61 per cent|
|Chemistry||53 per cent
||60 per cent|
|Chemical engineering||53 per cent
||58 per cent|
|Mineral, metallurgy and materials engineering
||57 per cent||58 per cent
|Fixed-term Employees (prevention of less favourable treatment) Regulations
1.5 In October 2002 the Fixed-term Employees (prevention
of less favourable treatment) Regulations will take effect.
The main purposes of the Regulations are to ensure that fixed-term
employees are treated no less favourably than employees in permanent
employment, and to prevent abuse arising from the use of successive
periods of fixed-term employment. This will allow for the transposition
of the EC Directive 1999/70/EC on Fixed-term Work into UK law.
It is widely felt across the higher education sector that this
may offer a long overdue solution for large numbers of staff working
in the sector who have suffered years of job insecurity and discriminatory
1.6 The association does have a number of concerns about
the final draft of the Regulations, particularly where it is felt
too much scope is given to employers to justify the continuing
use of such bad management practices. The association has recommended
The regulations should limit the maximum duration
of successive fixed-term contracts to two years;
This limit should not be exceeded by objective
grounds unless such grounds relate to exceptional circumstances,
which do not include time limited funding;
Continuous service prior to the implementation
of the Regulations should count in relation to the renewal of
successive fixed-term contracts.
2. DOES THE
2.1 The Bett Report highlighted the problems for management
that arise from employing staff on a temporary basis. These included
difficulties in attracting high calibre staff to posts which are
not secure. The Report noted that retention problems are frequently
reported. "Towards the end of a fixed-term contract staff
necessarily start looking for employment elsewhere: the present
job no longer commands their full attention and they often leave
before their contract ends. This may put the quality and/or completion
of research projects at risk, and will involve the institution
in the time and other costs of recruiting replacements. A further
problem is that temporary staff are often not fully integrated
into the team with which they work and are not given a full share
of all necessary tasks." (paragraph 215)
2.2 For some time, researchers in the field have highlighted
managerial disincentives relating to the use of fixed-term contracts.
"Short time scales and the need for immediate, visible, returns
undermines the key features of professional working; adaptability,
autonomy and motivation... The emergence of an underclass of temporary
academic staff which lack a relational psychological contract
to the employer, undermines and fragments the organising principle
of collegiality on which academic professionalism is based."
2.3 Fixed-term contracts have a negative impact on the
research culture of universities. Inevitably, towards the end
of a contract, time must be spent looking for the next postapplying
for jobs, interviews, getting training that may be useful on a
cv. This means that the contract worker is not concentrating full-time
on the job. Often, one eye is always on the "jobs column".
As a result, contract workers often leave posts early to ensure
continuity of employment. This means that the research inevitably
suffersit may be impossible to fill a post for a few months.
This can have a knock on effect: if the aims of a research grant
are not met, further funding may be harder to obtain.
2.4 Casual forms of employment often provide significant
disbenefits to employers of both a professional and a financial
nature. The disadvantages for universities in running their affairs
in this way should be clear. It has been demonstrated that the
turnover of fixed-term staff is at least four times greater than
staff on permanent contracts.
There are obvious difficulties with the retention of researchers
and there is a continual drain of resources into the recruitment,
induction and training of new staff. A reliance on fixed-term
staff can also undermine other human resource initiatives such
as securing employee commitment, generating strong research team
working, and staff development programmes.
2.5 Casualisation has major implications for equal opportunities.
According to the latest HESA figures, women are 32 per cent more
likely than men to be employed on a fixed-term contract. This
structural discrimination severely hinders the successful implementation
of equal opportunity initiatives such as the Athena project.
There are similar problems in relation to race and ethnicity.
A study in 2000 by the AUT indicated that Asian academics were
more likely than staff of other ethnicity to be employed on a
fixed-term contract. Bryson provides evidence that women and ethnic
minority staff are "ghettoised" and find it difficult
to progress onto permanent posts.
Impact of casualisation on the Government's policy for higher
2.6 The AUT supports the Government's agenda for higher
education including widening access and achieving the target that
50 per cent of the population will enter higher education by the
time they reach the age of 30. Higher education has a major role
to play in boosting the UK economy and in significantly increasing
social inclusion among young people. However, it is recognised
that to achieve these goals in a sustainable way will require
a well-resourced higher education system and a workforce that
is able and motivated to deliver them.
2.7 The AUT has estimated that in order to meet the participation
target, 5000 more academic staff will be required by 2005-06,
with a significant amount of additional staff by 2010.
This number of high calibre staff will be recruited only if higher
education offers attractive careers. If the skills shortages now
evident in other areas of the education sector are to be avoided,
far more staff will have to be recruited, particularly if the
sector fails to retain the high quality staff already employed.
Addressing the use and abuse of fixed-term contracts in the sector
would be a significant factor in realising this aim.
3. WHAT ARE
3.1 In the period 1994-95 to 2000-01, the proportion
of fixed-term contract staff aged 30 and above rose from 53 per
cent to 63 per cent. This undermines the perception that contract
research staff (CRS) at universities are predominantly young postgraduates
or postdoctoral staff undertaking research for a year or two before
getting a "proper" job in academia or industry.
3.2 A recent survey of fixed-term staff in higher education
found that 96 per cent of respondents had accepted a fixed-term
contract because contract work was the only form that was offered
or available. The survey showed that a considerable proportion
of employees are dissatisfied with their fixed-term status and
attribute it to their employer. "Contract workers do not
generally report themselves as opting deliberately for this kind
of work but rather regard their situation as one of constraint:
the condition of academic work is formally insecure employment,
a finding that accords with the casualisation thesis."
3.3 Bryson is extremely critical of the system of contract
research in UK higher education.
He identifies a number of issues for researchers and their careers
including poor morale and job satisfaction, a feeling of being
treated as second-class citizens, the abuse of intellectual property
rights and the lack of promotion criteria. The nature of temporary
contracts created profound problems. He states, "Job insecurity,
uncertainty and the inability to plan were clearly very important
but were not the only issues. `Temporariness' led to being seen
as transient and inferior by some permanent colleagues. The lack
of continuity created wastage and inability to work effectively."
Certainly, one of the main implications of the use of fixed-term
contracts is that CRS have no proper career structure. The Roberts
review for example found "significant concern with the lack
of any clear career structure associated with contract research".
An AUT member has identified a number of implications of
being on a fixed-term contract:
"I am reluctant to take on longer term commitments such
as directing a research group, editing a journal or organising
a research network, all of which require a continued presence
in the field of research, which I can never be certain of. I also
have difficulty in planning a long-term programme of development
in a research area, since the next contract may be in a different
field. Being on a fixed-term contract causes all sorts of personal
problems. It is impossible to know whether to move home to live
near my work, since I may have to move again in a couple of years.
There is also the problem of getting a mortgage when there is
no job security."
3.4 The AUT has identified a number of areas in which
fixed-term contract staff are treated less favourably than staff
on open-ended contracts. These include:
Access to appraisal and staff development processes
Entitlement to holidays and sick pay
Access to maternity rights lost at termination
3.5 CRS will lose employment rights upon moving between
contracts and institutions even if the grants are from the same
funding body. Under such circumstances gaining access to maternity
pay can be problematic, as the maternity leave period would have
to fall after the qualifying period but before the termination
of the contract. We are also concerned that the fixed-term contracts
that would otherwise have been renewed are allowed to lapse during
or following maternity leave.
3.6 The average salary for full time fixed-term academic
staff in 1999-2000 was £23,938 compared to £34,920 for
full-time permanent staff. It may be argued that seniority or
age differences account for this pay gap. But AUT has presented
data that show that in every academic staff grade category except
one, fixed-term employees earn less than permanent employees.
The data also show that even when we control for age fixed-term
staff earn less than their permanent colleagues.
Fixed-term staff are often forced to accept pay cuts when moving
from one research contract to another, both within and between
3.7 Such discrimination on the grounds of contractual
status will become illegal once the Fixed-term Employees Regulations
come into effect in this autumn, unless the employer can objectively
justify the difference in treatment. The AUT recommends that higher
education institutions take urgent steps to end the inequality
in treatment of terms and conditions between fixed-term and permanent
3.8 The association has serious concerns about the "class"
system operating for academics in universities,
with established lecturing staff on the one hand and fixed-term
research staff on the other, in particular over problems with
discrimination. This is despite the fact that they all have essentially
the same role of teaching, research and administration, even though
these may be in various ratios. For example, such distinctions
lead directly to bad practice, where established members of staff
claim to be principal authors of research proposals, where in
fact they are merely "fronting" proposals written by
members of CRS in order to get round Research Council rules. Denying
CRS proper recognition will potentially damage future career prospects,
due to the lack of evidence of obtaining proper project funds,
project management and so on. Research councils should seek to
fund the best research proposals, rather than discriminate first
according to the type of contract the applicant is onthere
should be no bar to CRS applying for grants as principal investigators,
including those that would be used to fund part of their salary.
3.9 Grant-awarding bodies play a significant role in
reflecting and reinforcing discrimination against contract researchers.
Although most research councilsincluding NERC, PPARC, EPSRC
and BBSRCstill do not allow CRS to apply for funding in
their own name, ESRC and MRC do allow contract researchers to
apply as principal investigators. The association believes that
the Research Councils UK should seek to harmonise research council
eligibility rules on the basis of the ESRC approach.
3.10 Similarly, research assessment exercise (RAE) rules
on counting CRS as 0.1 of a person unnecessarily distorts and
devalues their role in the research productivity of an institution
and perpetuates further their exclusion from the research culture
of a department. The desire for full RAE returnees to achieve
international standing and be seen to bring in research money
often results in CRS being denied conference expenses, deliberately
sidelined from being principal investigators on grant proposals
and effectively pushed out of other means of research career development.
The low recognition given to CRS in the RAE also encourages malpractice
in designating authorship to published works that have been written
by research teams. The RAE in its current form offers justification
for the exploitation of the contractual vulnerability of CRS.
AUT recommends that CRS are treated with parity to their permanent
4. Is There Evidence That The Present Situation Causes
Good Researchers to Leave?
4.1 Casualisation has a negative effect on the recruitment
and retention of academic and academic-related staff. AUT is aware
of numerous examples of excellent researchers deciding "it
is not worth the constant stress, insecurity and hassle of moving,
job hunting, re-establishing yourself time and time again all
in hope of a permanent academic post."
4.2 This anecdotal evidence is supported by numerous
quantitative and qualitative research studies. According to the
Roberts Report, "Many universities and PhD students said
that the short-term contracts often given to postdoctoral researchers
at universities act as a serious disincentive to many graduates
pursuing a career in university research."
4.3 These problems have also been identified in the recent
report from the Universities and Colleges Employers Association
(UCEA) on recruitment and retention in higher education. In this
survey, one in five institutions mentioned that fixed-term contracts
were causing recruitment and retention problems in their institutions.
There were particular difficulties in recruiting CRS. Forty per
cent of universities reported recruitment difficulties in this
4.4 Members of a cohort of Wellcome Trust-funded PhD
students who received Prize Studentships between 1988 and 1990
were traced in spring 1999. The survey showed that five to eight
years after termination of their trust studentship, less than
half the individuals were still employed in the higher education
sector. "Many cited the lack of job security inherent in
short-term academic contracts and the need to apply for research
funding continually. Another reason often cited was the lack of
a defined career path or career structure in academia. The third,
and almost universal, reason was that academic research was underpaid
when compared to the salary opportunities available elsewhere."
4.5 One member of the cohort who left academic research
after five years, succinctly made an important point"it
is a tragedy for these individuals to have to give up something
they love doing in order to have a reasonable home life, some
sort of reasonable salary compensation and some job security".
4.6 The Academic Research Careers in Scotland (ARCS)
summarised that "contract research staff valued job content
over other aspects of their job. Despite this, 70 per cent felt
that obtaining employment on a permanent contract was either "very
important" or "important".
In the event most felt that their jobs delivered on interest but
failed to deliver on job security, promotion opportunities and
pay. The most important factors leading to an exit from contract
research were job insecurity (by a wide margin), poor promotion
prospects and low pay. Furthermore, we are increasingly aware
that research staff on fixed-term contracts, particularly in science
and engineering, are attracted to permanent academic employment
outside the UK, meaning their skills and achievements are lost
to the UK economy.
4.7 It is clear that there is a very real danger that
we are losing the best and brightest from universities into predominantly
non-research fields or abroad. The association believes we are
thus wasting a significant intellectual resource.
5. WHAT WOULD
5.1 Recommendations on the correct percentage of contract
and permanent research staff in universities and research institutions
will depend in large part on local circumstances. However, the
provisions of the Fixed-term Regulations must be taken into account,
particularly regarding the successive use of fixed-term contracts.
The association believes that unless there is tightly defined
objective justification for placing a post on a fixed-term contract,
or renewing a fixed-term contract, all contract research staff
should be employed on permanent contracts.
5.2 In respect of the introduction of the Fixed-term
Regulations, the fundamental question for contract research staff
is how objective justification will be defined. The association
believes it is essential that there are transparent, necessary
and objective reasons for placing a post initially and subsequently
on a fixed-term contract. The renewal or extension of the fixed
term would also have to be justified separately by objective reasons.
Objective grounds should relate to specified exceptional circumstances
such as covering for staff absence (for example parental leave
or long-term sickness) or if the contract is to provide a secondment
or career development opportunity. Commitment to more stable employment
should also take into account the overall size and resources of
the employer. Higher education institutions are large multimillion-pound
organisations in receipt of substantial public funds and it is
unusual for an institution to experience a year-on-year reduction
in income. Their capacity to employ and develop research expertise
extends beyond a single project and one short-term contract.
5.3 It is clear that a fundamental shift in the culture
of employment practices is needed. As the ARCS report noted, "When
contract research staff left to take careers in private sector
manufacturing, hardly any were employed on fixed-term contracts.
Since there is no reason to believe that the prospects of the
manufacturing sector were more secure than those of the education
sector (to the contrary, in fact) the difference may be the result
of different employment practices and conventions." The association
believes it is these very practices and conventions that must
6. HAS THE
6.1 Although it was designed to improve the careers of
CRS, theConcordat on Research Career Managementhas produced
virtually no concrete changes since 1996. This arises from the
failure of higher education institutions to abide by their own
agreements and the lack of any incentives or penalties (for example,
financial) for universities to offer anything more than window
dressing towards the Concordat and RCI recommendations. All evidence
so far reveals that higher education institutions will not develop
any meaningful changes to CRS career paths or working conditions.
For example, this is due to the lack of connection between national
initiatives, institutional policies and the practice of Principal
Investigators in academic departments.
6.2 Consequently, the second and third interim RCI reports
make for depressing reading. They reveal that progress for better
management of CRS has been slow or non-existent, with many higher
education institutions not even implementing the basic RCI recommendations.
For example only 70 per cent of CRS receive the institution's
policy statement on research. Only 40 per cent of CRS believe
that they are on an equal footing with permanent staff in university
and departmental decision-making. A large number of staff have
never even heard of the Concordat and the RCI.
7. HOW SHOULD
7.1 As a recent report into medical research stated,
"the availability of a highly skilled and well-motivated
scientific workforce is fundamental to success. This requires
recruitment of high-quality personnel; it also requires the retention
of the best contract research workers so that their skills and
experience are not lost to the scientific research community.
This in turn depends on the existence of suitable structures to
underpin research work in the UK. It is widely acknowledged that
the employment arrangements for an important tier of scientific
research workers are anachronistic when compared with modern employment
practices in other areas of work."
7.2 The Roberts Review, drawing on the ARCS survey, concluded
that three different career trajectories should be encouraged
for contract researchers: the industrial trajectory, the academic
trajectory and the research associate trajectory. The association
has a number of concerns about this proposal as it relies on,
and legitimises, the continuing use of fixed-term contracts for
both the industrial and the academic trajectories. The proposal
that postdoctoral researchers aiming for an academic career should
remain on short-term contracts introduces a pre-probationary period
for academic staff. This two-tier system would deter people from
an academic career and encourage forced insecurity, not effective
mobility, within an established labour market. There is a danger
that this will do little more than re-label the existing system
and not significantly change the experience of contract research
staff in the UK.
7.3 The association believes that higher education employers
should use the introduction of the Fixed-term Employees Regulations
as an opportunity to significantly reduce the proportion of research
staff on fixed-term contacts. This paper has made recommendations
both about how the Regulations could be strengthened, and how
objective justification for the use of fixed-term contracts should
be defined within workplace agreements.
7.4 Any decisions on future policy should include an
analysis of the apparent failures of initiatives such as the Concordat,
the Research Careers Initiative and the Good Practice Agreement
signed in 2000 between the employers and all trade unions except
AUT. There is now a prospect of new guidance which may be agreed
by employers and trade unions. If this guidance is fully endorsed,
renewed efforts will be needed to ensure that it effectively promotes
adherence to the forthcoming Fixed-term Regulations and has a
real impact for research staff.
7.5 There are examples of good practice in the sector
which should be disseminated, such as the recent agreement at
Robert Gordon University. The university has recognised the business
case for transferring fixed-term staff onto permanent contracts.
The Director of Human Resources stated that, "Our research
strategies demand that we are able to recruit and retain the best
possible staff, and only by moving to more modern employment arrangements
will we achieve this goal. There are real benefits to be gained
for both the employee and the university by changing both their
status and employment conditions."
7.6 A significant reduction in the use of fixed-term
contracts for research staff will require a commitment to change
the employment culture within universities and research institutions.
Not only is there now a legal requirement for this to happen,
the association has repeatedly made the case for the benefits
to the sector of the use of permanent contracts. This includes
the ability to attract and retain the highest quality staff. It
is now time to deliver employment security and better career prospects
for contract research workers. These changes will also help to
modernise the infrastructure on which the future developments
of UK science and technology depend.
21 June 2002
Sir M Bett (1999), Independent Review of Higher Education pay
and conditions, recommendation 36. Back
Statistics are from the Higher Education Statistics Agency individual
staff record. HESA only collects data on academic staff employed
on at least 25 per cent of a full-time equivalent member of staff.
Appendix 1 gives more detailed statistics on the extent of casualisation
in the higher education sector Back
For the association's full response to the government's final
consultation on the draft regulations, please see the AUT web
site at www.aut.org.uk/campaigns/index.html Back
Bryson C and Barne N, 1997 Professional workers and fixed term
contracts: a contradiction in terms, ERU Conference, Cardiff,
September 1997. Back
Bryson C (2001) The business case for numerical flexibility:
A study of temporary employment in UK universities, 17th EGOS
Colloquium, Lyon. Back
Allan C. (2000) "The hidden costs of using non-standard
employment", Personnel Review, 29, 188-206. Back
This project promotes the recruitment, retention, progression,
and promotion of women in science, engineering and technology
within higher education, http://www.athena.ic.ac.uk/ Back
Bryson C (1997) Do fixed term contracts mean a better or worse
deal for women? 15th International Labour Process Conference,
Edinburgh University, March 25-27. Back
AUT (2001) Reaching for 50 per cent participation: sustainable
growth in higher education. Back
Simms M, Heery E and Farias C (2001) Contingent work in the public
sector: a survey of fixed term workers in higher education. Paper
presented to ERU Conference September 2001. Back
Bryson, 1999 Contract research: the failure to address the
real issues. Back
ibid. pp. 36-37. Back
AUT (2000) Local and national pay and employment in higher
See Harvie. D (2000) "Alienation, Class and Enclosure in
UK Universities", Capital & Class 71. Back
Review of the Supply of Scientists and Engineers: A summary of
responses to the June consultation paper, November 2001, pp. 15. Back
UCEA, Recruitment and Retention of Staff in Higher Education,
2002, pp. 27, 23. Back
Wellcome Trust (2000) Review of Wellcome Trust PhD Research Training
Career Paths of a 1988-1990 Prize Student Cohort. Back
Scottish Higher Education Funding Council (2001)-Academic Research
Careers in Scotland. Back
Research Careers Initiative, 2nd Report, May 2000. For the first
three reports, see http://www.universitiesuk.ac.uk/activities/rci.asp Back
The Academy of Medical Sciences (2002) Non Clinical Scientists
on Short Term Contracts in Medical Research. Back