News  ⁄  Community & society

Education union challenges university to address widespread casualisation of teaching staff

Exeter University & College Union (UCU) launched an anti-casualisation campaign on Friday as a prelude to negotiation with the University of Exeter over academic staff contracts.

University of exeter   Exeter ucu   Higher education   Zero hours contracts   Casualisation  

Exeter University & College Union (UCU) has launched a campaign to address widespread casualisation of academic staff at the University of Exeter.

The education union’s new general secretary, Jo Grady, introduced the initiative at a launch event on Friday.

She pointed at Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) figures for 2016-17 that show 64% of all academic staff at the University of Exeter are employed on insecure contracts.

The figures reveal that only 1275 of the university’s 3520 academic staff were permanently employed or possessed open-ended contracts.

UCU collation of this data places Exeter as the sixth most insecure employer in the Russell Group and 23rd most insecure among 165 UK higher education institutions.

2017-18 statistics show an unchanged distribution, with 1390 of a total of 3870 academic staff employed permanently or on open-ended contracts.

A University of Exeter spokesperson said: “The figures quoted by the UCU on casual contracts include anyone working on a very short term basis to undertake marking or teaching which comprises around 4.5% of our total academic workforce.”

The question of how, and whether, to include very short term employees in academic staff figures is vexed. HESA began collecting statistics on hourly-paid and zero hours contract employees for its 2017/18 data set after consultation with staff representatives, but conclusions drawn from this new information depend on how it is interpreted.

HESA’s definition of “atypical” staff excludes very short term academic employees from comparison with staff on other contract types despite significant numbers of people being employed this way.

Philippa Davey, an official at UCU’s South West regional branch said: “UCU have requested figures for the workforce at Exeter University on numerous occasions but are yet to receive a full breakdown of hourly paid, casual, fixed term and permanent staff.”

Rhian Keyse speaking at Exeter UCU's anti-casualisation campaign launch Rhian Keyse speaking at Exeter UCU’s anti-casualisation campaign launch

Rhian Keyse, Exeter UCU Vice-President and a member of UCU’s national anti-casualisation campaign committee, presented the findings of UCU research into the impact of insecure employment contracts at the campaign launch.

Of nearly 4000 UK university staff employed on insecure contracts surveyed earlier this year, almost 60% said they had struggled to make ends meet.

71% said they believed their mental health had been damaged by working on insecure contracts and 83% said their contractual status made it hard to make long-term family plans or long-term financial commitments such as buying a house.

85% said they had considered leaving the sector in the last twelve months, with the number one reason for doing so being the lack of job security.

Rhian Keyse also said insecure employment contracts were detrimental to the student experience. 67% of teaching staff said they did not have enough paid time to enable them to prepare adequately for their classes and 44% said they did not have access to adequate facilities to provide feedback and support to students.

She said that teaching staff have to deliver student contact sessions in non-private spaces such as coffee shops or the Forum atrium due to lack of access to appropriate space in which to discuss what may be confidential or sensitive issues, such as grades.

Philippa Davey said: “We have evidence from members regarding contact sessions being delivered in spaces that are not confidential and of a lack of the basic resources required to deliver quality teaching and tutorials.”

The university said it does not compel teaching staff to conduct student contact sessions in non-private spaces such as coffee shops.

In addition, the university restricts postgraduate students to a maximum of six hours work each week, in line with research council award conditions on studentship holders, whether or not students are funded. However, in contrast with other comparable institutions, it continues to impose this limit after award periods end.

Philippa Davey said: “Students with no other form of income are disadvantaged by this ruling. We have members who have been unable to feed themselves, pay rent or bills and have had to seek work outside the university to enable them to survive. If other universities allow additional hours, why does Exeter insist on applying this rule?”

The university said that the rationale for restricting postgraduate student working hours is an educational rather than organisational decision intended to protect study time and support students in completing their postgraduate degrees.

A growing body of peer-reviewed academic research indicates that the efficiency gains claimed for flexible employment arrangements are illusory, and only save money at the cost of organisational learning, knowledge accumulation and knowledge sharing, thus damaging innovation and labour productivity growth.

UCU’s research reflects these findings: 81% of researchers said their research activity had been negatively affected by employment on short-term contracts, only 21% agreed that casual employment was an “economical and cost-effective” way to employ research staff and 95% said that more secure employment would help foster genuinely innovative research activity.

The university said that it has introduced new business rules on temporary working to ensure that short term contracts are only used in specific circumstances, such as to support ad hoc marking or teaching.

Philippa Davey said: “The research is very clear. The continued marketisation of education does not lead to higher standards or increased quality, rather the reverse. The flexibility and efficiencies are only a gain for the employer, not for the workers or the students.”

The University of Exeter The University of Exeter

The University of Exeter has already changed its approach to employing postgraduate students after pressure from the UCU.

In September 2018 Sir Steve Smith, the university’s vice-chancellor, said postgraduate students who worked regular or pre-scheduled hours would be employed on annual contracts, conferring benefits enjoyed by permanent employees such as sick leave, maternity pay and access to the university pension scheme.

However the change was a temporary pilot scheduled to run for one year, and did not apply to other hourly paid teaching staff. The university said that it has since extended the scheme.

Philippa Davey said: “UCU has been raising the issue of casualisation at the University of Exeter for a number of years. It is only in the past twelve months that we have seen any real movement. Our members are very clear that progress made so far, although very welcome, is not fast enough.

“We acknowledge the work that management have done to convert graduate workers to fractional contracts but this was very slow to start and initially did not include UCU.”

A university spokesperson said: “We share the UCU’s desire to provide the best possible job security and financial stability to everyone who works at the University of Exeter and together we have made good progress in recent years.”

“This includes from August 2018 paying the Living Wage to casual workers benefiting several hundred people and the introduction in 2018/19 of new contract arrangements for postgraduate students working as teachers.”

“In the coming months, we will continue to seek to work with UCU and our postgraduates to get the right balance between flexible working, supporting postgraduate study and improving contracts of work.”

Jo Grady speaking at Exeter UCU's anti-casualisation campaign launch Jo Grady speaking at Exeter UCU’s anti-casualisation campaign launch

Other universities have made significant changes to their employment practices. The University of Sheffield has agreed to end the use of casual contracts, Durham University has scrapped nine month teaching contracts and the Open University has moved 4000 associate lecturers onto permanent contracts.

The University of Edinburgh has agreed to abolish zero hour contracts and the University of Glasgow has made similar commitments.

UCU casualisation campaigns are also under way at other institutions, including the University of Cambridge, and negotiations are underway elsewhere, including at the University of Bristol.

Exeter UCU has now begun a formal negotiation process with the University of Exeter which it aims to conclude by the end of the 2020 summer term so that changes are implemented by this time next year.

A university spokesperson said: “Building on joint work in the 2018/19 academic year, the University of Exeter has advised the UCU that we are keen to work with them on the important issues they raise on short and fixed term contracts with an open offer to develop a joint approach.”

Philippa Davey said: “We have signed off a number of agreements across the South West with other institutions. The claim we have submitted formalises the requests we have made and sets a realistic time line for making progress.”

She added: “We look forward to working with management to ensure staff and students get the very best from the institution as an employer and educator.”


 is editor of Exeter Observer and a director of its publisher Exeter Observer Limited.

 


Recent stories
Protestors hold Devon County Council stop funding fossil fuel companies banner in Bedford Square

County council doubles down on pension fund divestment position

Universities social mobility scatter chart showing University of Exeter ranking

University of Exeter ranked bottom of Russell Group and 103rd overall in social mobility league table

Reclaim the Night march on Exeter High Street

500 march in Reclaim the Night protest against sexual violence and harassment on Exeter streets

Black-tailed godwits in Exe Estuary

Exe Estuary wildlife refuges succeed in increasing bird numbers

St Thomas Community Garden volunteers

First St Thomas winter market brings festival feel to "overlooked" area of Exeter

Harlequins revised redevelopment scheme - block two model view Paul Street elevation

Exeter City Council approves second Harlequins "co-living" block, sealing fate of Paul Street


Help power our public interest journalism

More News
Universities social mobility scatter chart showing University of Exeter ranking

University of Exeter ranked bottom of Russell Group and 103rd overall in social mobility league table

Landmark study by Institute for Fiscal Studies, Sutton Trust and Department for Education finds University of Exeter undergraduates are less likely to come from disadvantaged backgrounds, and those that do are less likely to be high earners.

Reclaim the Night march on Exeter High Street

500 march in Reclaim the Night protest against sexual violence and harassment on Exeter streets

Annual event promoting public awareness of male violence against women and girls in public spaces coincides with international human rights campaigns.

Black-tailed godwits in Exe Estuary

Exe Estuary wildlife refuges succeed in increasing bird numbers

Three year monitoring study confirms introduction of protected spaces has resulted in greater numbers of wildfowl using internationally important Dawlish Warren and Exmouth sites.

All News
More Community & Society
Universities social mobility scatter chart showing University of Exeter ranking

University of Exeter ranked bottom of Russell Group and 103rd overall in social mobility league table

Landmark study by Institute for Fiscal Studies, Sutton Trust and Department for Education finds University of Exeter undergraduates are less likely to come from disadvantaged backgrounds, and those that do are less likely to be high earners.

Reclaim the Night march on Exeter High Street

500 march in Reclaim the Night protest against sexual violence and harassment on Exeter streets

Annual event promoting public awareness of male violence against women and girls in public spaces coincides with international human rights campaigns.

St Thomas Community Garden volunteers

First St Thomas winter market brings festival feel to "overlooked" area of Exeter

A community-run event at St Thomas' Church combined artisan traders with music, storytelling and craft workshops to create a family-friendly festival atmosphere.

All Community & Society
Analysis
Protestors hold Devon County Council stop funding fossil fuel companies banner in Bedford Square

County council doubles down on pension fund divestment position

Devon Pension Fund remains committed to fossil fuel investment despite increasingly untenable pension fund committee position that relies on unfounded shareholder influence claims and failure to understand sector position and plans.

Harlequins revised redevelopment scheme - block two model view Paul Street elevation

Exeter City Council approves second Harlequins "co-living" block, sealing fate of Paul Street

Previously rejected vision will now form basis of "abysmal" and "poorly thought through" Liveable Exeter development of 383 "units of accommodation" with increased proportion of substandard studios but reduced economic value to city.

Exeter City Council climate credentials claim in St Sidwells Point development hoarding

Greens call for evidence-based Exeter carbon budget as city council clings to net zero rhetoric

The Net Zero Exeter plan lacks baseline emissions figures, recognised scope definitions and measurement and reporting frameworks, placing the city's decarbonisation agenda at risk. The opportunity for Exeter to demonstrate genuine climate crisis leadership nevertheless remains.

All Analysis
Comment
Cargo bike carrying kids in Exeter

If you think electric vehicles are the answer, you're asking the wrong question

Mike Walton of Exeter Cycling Campaign says we shouldn't be seduced by the motoring lobby into believing that electric cars can create the future we and our children need.

Net Zero Exeter logo

Is Exeter City Council going to abandon its Net Zero 2030 target?

Review suggests alignment with Devon Carbon Plan, currently aimed at 50% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 and net zero by 2050, citing "technical and financial challenges ahead", although change in policy would require decision by councillors after 6 May local elections.

Centre for Cities Exeter City Monitor graphic

Selective use of statistics presents an unbalanced account of Exeter's economic & environmental status

Exeter City Council's Chief Executive uses statistics to show the city in a good light, but in doing so presents a picture which omits important information about the city's true position.

All Comment
Transport & Mobility
Cargo bike carrying kids in Exeter

If you think electric vehicles are the answer, you're asking the wrong question

Mike Walton of Exeter Cycling Campaign says we shouldn't be seduced by the motoring lobby into believing that electric cars can create the future we and our children need.

RMT campaign sticker on Exeter bus shelter

Stagecoach strike to take place following failed pay negotiations

Transport union RMT says Stagecoach pay offer is unsatisfactory and demands better conditions as staff shortages threaten services.

Peninsula Transport vision document cover image

30 year plan for SW transport outlined in consultation document

Strategic vision places investment in roads ahead of decarbonisation despite acknowledging the region's high car dependency rate.

All Transport & Mobility
Planning & Place
Harlequins revised redevelopment scheme - block two model view Paul Street elevation

Exeter City Council approves second Harlequins "co-living" block, sealing fate of Paul Street

Previously rejected vision will now form basis of "abysmal" and "poorly thought through" Liveable Exeter development of 383 "units of accommodation" with increased proportion of substandard studios but reduced economic value to city.

Independent local business on Paris Street, Exeter

Prospects improve for pop-up Paris Street and Sidwell Street tenants wanting to stay on development site

Council leader Phil Bialyk says it will be "some years" before planned CityPoint redevelopment affects repurposed retail units, and that council "would want" to accommodate artistic and cultural initiatives and independent local businesses "should they wish to remain".

Clifton Hill sports centre

Council plans to scrap affordable housing requirement for Clifton Hill sports centre site redevelopment

Council-owned and financed developer cites unpublished report which values council-owned land for student housing despite council decision ruling out this use.

All Planning & Place
Arts & Culture
Positive Light Projects - Sidwell Street entrance

Positive Light Projects opens community arts centre despite CityPoint redevelopment threat

Parts of Exeter city centre are experiencing an unplanned renaissance as small shops and cultural venues move in to fill empty units on Paris Street and Sidwell Street, but uncertainty remains as the council still plans to demolish and redevelop.

Exeter Princesshay Debenhams closing down sale

Top floor of former Debenhams store to be converted into cinema

Princesshay owner's proposals for change of use to four screen cinema and cafe/bar have been under discussion since November 2019.

Preston Street Union present SERGE/SURGE at Cricklepit Mill

Preston Street Union rolls out the red carpet

The Exeter-based artists explore migration driven by the city's historic wool trade in new work commissioned by RAMM.

All Arts & Culture
Climate & Environment
Protestors hold Devon County Council stop funding fossil fuel companies banner in Bedford Square

County council doubles down on pension fund divestment position

Devon Pension Fund remains committed to fossil fuel investment despite increasingly untenable pension fund committee position that relies on unfounded shareholder influence claims and failure to understand sector position and plans.

Black-tailed godwits in Exe Estuary

Exe Estuary wildlife refuges succeed in increasing bird numbers

Three year monitoring study confirms introduction of protected spaces has resulted in greater numbers of wildfowl using internationally important Dawlish Warren and Exmouth sites.

Exeter Extinction Rebellion activists fly flag outside COP26 Exeter event at Maketank with COP26 Exeter photography project in window

COP-EXE event showcases local responses to global climate crisis

Exeter city centre venues last week hosted exhibitions promoting local action to mitigate the climate crisis in tandem with the COP26 conference in Glasgow.

All Climate & Environment
Democracy & Governance
Liveable Exeter Place Board agenda October 2020 redacted

City council outsourcing Exeter local government to unaccountable Liveable Exeter Place Board

An Exeter Observer investigation of Liveable Exeter Place Board has found that it is a de facto decision-making and governance body which exercises public functions with the potential to affect everyone who lives and works in Exeter.

Exeter city centre from Exeter Cathedral roof

Freedom of Information requests reveal Liveable Exeter Place Board "chumocracy" overseeing the city

Despite the significance of Liveable Exeter Place Board's role in determining the city's future, its members are selected and appointed on a secretive, informal basis.

Exeter City Council 2021 election results ballot share percentage by ward

Did Exeter's local elections results tell a Labour success story?

Exeter Labour lost just one seat in the city council elections and held all seven of its county hall seats, but on closer inspection its performance was more mixed than these headline results imply.

All Democracy & Governance
Economy & Enterprise
Job Centre Plus entrance

Exeter workers to be among hardest hit by £20 cut in universal credit

Analysis shows proportion of benefit claimants in Exeter in work is among highest in country.

Centre for Cities Exeter City Monitor graphic

Selective use of statistics presents an unbalanced account of Exeter's economic & environmental status

Exeter City Council's Chief Executive uses statistics to show the city in a good light, but in doing so presents a picture which omits important information about the city's true position.

Illustration showing how the new building will look when completed

Exeter Science Park STEMM "grow-out building" construction begins

A new specialist centre for fast-growth Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths & Medicine businesses will be completed by November 2021.

All Economy & Enterprise