News  ⁄  Education & skills

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 member and director of its publisher Exeter Observer Limited.

 


Recent stories
Harlequins revised redevelopment scheme illustrative elevation

Harlequins developer plans to scrap hotel to build second "co-living" block on shopping centre site

Positive Light Projects - Sidwell Street entrance

Positive Light Projects opens community arts centre despite CityPoint redevelopment threat

New Haven Field in Exeter's Riverside Valley Park

River Exe green spaces and heritage harbour site threatened by "Liveable Exeter" development scheme

Extinction Rebellion climate activist Imogen May

Environmental activist Imogen May defiant after second liability order for non-payment of council tax

Clydesdale, Nash and Birks Grange Village redevelopment illustrative elevations

University drops environmental standards for huge student flats development with council approval

Kinder Exeter community festival on Cathedral Green

Kinder Exeter community festival brings compassion and colour to city centre


Help power our public interest journalism

Never miss a story
on Exeter Observer

More News
Harlequins revised redevelopment scheme illustrative elevation

Harlequins developer plans to scrap hotel to build second "co-living" block on shopping centre site

Existing planning approval will be factor in decision to return to earlier, rejected, vision which would mean 378 studios and "cluster flat" rooms along Paul Street.

Extinction Rebellion climate activist Imogen May

Environmental activist Imogen May defiant after second liability order for non-payment of council tax

Extinction Rebellion demonstrated at Exeter Law Courts in support of Crediton lone parent who has withheld council tax for two years in protest over government climate crisis inaction.

Kinder Exeter community festival on Cathedral Green

Kinder Exeter community festival brings compassion and colour to city centre

Week-long event bringing artists, academics, students and communities together for online and outdoor activities was first of planned annual festivals facilitated by Maketank artists' collective.

All News
More Education & Skills
Exeter University & College Union strike third week rally at St David's Church - Billy Bragg concert

University of Exeter strike ends third week with rally and concert at St David's Church

The Exeter branch of the University & College Union (UCU) is taking part in four weeks of national industrial action over pensions, equal pay for female and BAME staff, increasing workloads and the use of casual employment contracts.

Striking University of Exeter history lecturers Dr Jennifer Farrell and Dr Gemma Clark

University of Exeter staff strike over pay, pensions and working conditions

The Exeter branch of the University & College Union (UCU) is taking part in a national eight day strike for fair pay and pensions, including equal pay for female and BAME staff, and against casualisation and increasing workloads.

Analysis
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.

New Haven Field in Exeter's Riverside Valley Park

River Exe green spaces and heritage harbour site threatened by "Liveable Exeter" development scheme

Exeter Civic Society and Green, Liberal Democrat and Independent councillors raise alarm at prospect of Exeter City Council development in river valley park and historic canal basin.

Clydesdale, Nash and Birks Grange Village redevelopment illustrative elevations

University drops environmental standards for huge student flats development with council approval

University of Exeter and Exeter City Council both ignore own policies in plans to demolish 30 buildings and construct 50,000m2 of new student accommodation, telling us more about their priorities than their climate leadership claims.

All Analysis
Comment
UN Secretary General António Guterres briefs the media

António Guterres on the climate crisis: "We are coming to a point of no return"

An interview with the UN Secretary General on the eve of the G7 summit in Cornwall published as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration.

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
Train at Okehampton Station in 2015

Okehampton to Exeter "Dartmoor Line" passenger rail service reinstatement confirmed

£40 million Department for Transport "Restoring your Railway" funding to enable trains every two hours by end of this year, with plans to increase to hourly service during 2022. Stakeholders combine to get South West infrastructure needs onto Whitehall agenda.

Pedestrians and people waiting at bus stop on Exeter Cowick Street

Council abandons temporary COVID-19 cycling and walking safety plans in Exeter city centre

Devon County Council cites "pushback" from traders as schemes on North Street, South Street, Fore Street and Cowick Street are scrapped. Meanwhile temporary changes in Topsham are dropped after "snap poll".

Cyclists, pedestrians and cars compete for space on Union Road, Exeter, 1 June 2020

Devon County Council fails to deliver promised COVID-19 cycling and walking infrastructure

Deadline for action on social distancing for safe travel set by county cabinet member passes despite Devon receiving £1.7 million share of government emergency fund.

All Transport & Mobility
Planning & Place
Harlequins revised redevelopment scheme illustrative elevation

Harlequins developer plans to scrap hotel to build second "co-living" block on shopping centre site

Existing planning approval will be factor in decision to return to earlier, rejected, vision which would mean 378 studios and "cluster flat" rooms along Paul Street.

New Haven Field in Exeter's Riverside Valley Park

River Exe green spaces and heritage harbour site threatened by "Liveable Exeter" development scheme

Exeter Civic Society and Green, Liberal Democrat and Independent councillors raise alarm at prospect of Exeter City Council development in river valley park and historic canal basin.

Clydesdale, Nash and Birks Grange Village redevelopment illustrative elevations

University drops environmental standards for huge student flats development with council approval

University of Exeter and Exeter City Council both ignore own policies in plans to demolish 30 buildings and construct 50,000m2 of new student accommodation, telling us more about their priorities than their climate leadership claims.

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
Extinction Rebellion climate activist Imogen May

Environmental activist Imogen May defiant after second liability order for non-payment of council tax

Extinction Rebellion demonstrated at Exeter Law Courts in support of Crediton lone parent who has withheld council tax for two years in protest over government climate crisis inaction.

UN Secretary General António Guterres briefs the media

António Guterres on the climate crisis: "We are coming to a point of no return"

An interview with the UN Secretary General on the eve of the G7 summit in Cornwall published as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration.

Devon Pension Fund fossil fuel holdings

Devon Pension Fund fossil fuel investment position exposed by Shell and BP AGM votes

Shareholder support for Paris Agreement-compatible goals increases but fails to prevent continuing oil and gas exploration, extraction, production or consumption as experts intensify warnings that emissions reductions goals will be missed.

All Climate & Environment
Democracy & Governance
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.

Exeter City Council in session at Exeter Guildhall - Inauguration of Lord Mayor

High Court rules council meetings must resume in person after local elections

Case seeking judgement to allow local authority meetings to continue remotely when temporary coronavirus regulations expire fails to override requirement for primary legislation.

Electoral Commission ballot box graphic

2021 Exeter local elections guide

Elections for Exeter City Council, Devon County Council and the Devon & Cornwall Police and Crime Commissioner are taking place in Exeter on 6 May. Our essential election guide highlights wards and divisions to watch, changes taking place and how, when and where to vote.

All Democracy & Governance
Economy & Enterprise
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.

Small retail businesses on Paris Street, Exeter

Half of COVID-19 support grants unclaimed by Exeter businesses

Exeter City Council in bottom third of local authorities as only 45% of eligible local businesses claim government coronavirus support money.

All Economy & Enterprise
Community & Society
Kinder Exeter community festival on Cathedral Green

Kinder Exeter community festival brings compassion and colour to city centre

Week-long event bringing artists, academics, students and communities together for online and outdoor activities was first of planned annual festivals facilitated by Maketank artists' collective.

Great Western Hotel beside Exeter St David's railway station

Exeter rough sleepers in COVID-19 emergency accommodation face uncertain future

Exeter City Council has yet to confirm whether it will use any of the £2.15m Rough Sleeping Initiative funding it has received since 2018 to keep housing rough sleepers when government emergency accommodation funding runs out.

Night shelter for homeless and rough sleepers in Magdalen Street, Exeter (front)

Exeter rough sleepers night shelter to open all year round

Exeter City Council has approved plans to extend Magdalen Street night shelter opening from April to the end of September.

All Community & Society