By Julia Atherley
A group called ‘Durham Casuals’ has been set up to draw attention to the precarious working conditions faced by many of the University’s teaching staff.
Speaking to Palatinate, the group said: “Casualisation is not new, but it has blown up in the past ten years. Universities are trying to save money at the expense of driven, passionate young academics, and we’ve had enough.
“It’s damaging for staff, it’s damaging for students, and it’s damaging for the sector. This needs to change, and we’re pushing for change at institutional level.”
In total they have 95 members and used the time during the UCU strikes last term to set up contacts between departments.
The group is affiliated with the UCU and has already made links with academics from universities such as Kent, Manchester, and Warwick.
‘Durham Casuals’ have over 1000 followers on Twitter and are receiving support from academics in similar positions from across the UK.
They draw especial attention to the increase in nine-month contracts given to academics. For example, they claim that a job at University College London (UCL) paid just £6000 for a nine-month period of employment that was 0.2 full time equivalent (FTE).
The contracts mean that pre-term preparatory work is unpaid, and staff are often left unemployed over the summer vacation.
The group also focus on the problems faced by hourly-paid lecturers. Such staff in the English department have been paying for their own printing meanwhile tutors in the Philosophy department are paid just £3.50 per first-year summative essay.
They also claim that hourly-paid staff who do a lot of core teaching in departments see on average 4.2% of students’ tuition fees.
Jon Bryan, Regional Support Official for the University and College Union (UCU), told Palatinate: “UCU is becoming increasingly concerned about the continuous rise in precarious work in the Higher Education sector.
“We continue to raise this issue at a national level, but with little progress being made (and a real lack of common understanding) UCU will be taking up this issue directly with Universities. Staff grouping together under the umbrella of “Durham Casuals” is to be welcomed – and the union will be looking to take up the issues that they see as significant.”
Professor Antony Long, Durham University Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Provost, told Palatinate: “At Durham University we recognise that our staff are key to our continuing success.
“That is why as part of our University Strategy we are investing in how we recruit, develop and reward colleagues, both in academia and in professional services.
“We are keen to hear the views of staff on these important issues and colleagues are encouraged to use departmental channels to contribute to improving our University together.
“Where any cases that appear to breach our policies are raised, we will investigate immediately.”
‘Durham Casuals’ urge students to help the movement by contacting their departments directly and asking how many tutors or lecturers in that department are paid by the hour or employed on nine-month contracts.
Photographs: Business Durham via Flickr and Durham Casuals Twitter