By Anna Tatham
Over half of Durham academic staff are employed on insecure contracts, UCU figures have revealed.
53.7% of the University’s 2,495 staff are employed on either fixed-term (545) or atypical contracts (795), according to data from the HESA Staff Record 2016/17.
The data shows that 0% of senior management staff, such as Vice-Chancellor Stuart Corbridge, are on fixed-term contracts.
The results place Durham 55th on the insecurity ranking among 164 other UK universities listed in the data.
Insecure contracts are much less common for non-academic staff: 110 (10.6%) are on fixed-term contracts, while 920 non-academic staff are employed on open-ended or permanent contracts.
UCU says its data shows that staff on fixed-term contracts are usually in the early to mid-career range, meaning most, if not all, senior members of staff are on open-ended or permanent contracts.
Fixed-term contracts have a particular end date, often lasting for one year, however, a UCU survey found that around a third of contract researchers use 25% of their funded time working towards finding their next contract.
“Staff employed on these contracts don’t know what the next year will bring and need to spend a lot of their time seeking the next contract,” the UCU says.
Durham University scrapped nine-month contracts in May after a campaign orchestrated by ‘Durham Casuals’, as previously reported by Palatinate.
The University henceforth employs Teaching Fellows for a minimum contract period of twelve months.
Durham Casuals’, a group which aims to work with the University to improve working conditions, said: “Although we welcome the move to scrap 9-month contracts in favour of 12-month ones, they are still temporary contracts.”
The group told Palatinate that they are “not surprised” by the UCU figures, and suggested “many of these temporary contracts abuse the insecurity of the sector at large to save money.
“Universities—including Durham—are increasingly coming to rely on temporary teaching contracts instead of—or as an interim to—hiring permanent staff.
“The recent surge in new temporary posts suggests that the University increased its student numbers before hiring more permanent staff.”
Durham University’s student ratio is currently 14.9 staff per student, which has fallen from last year, according to The Sunday Times Good University Guide 2019.
“The University should regard its early career academics and teaching staff as investments for the future, rather than as sources of disposable labour.”
Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Provost, Professor Antony Long, said: “The University has been awarded the ‘HR in Excellence’ award to recognise our proactive approach to recognising the career prospects of our research staff.
“Any large organisation requires a flexible workforce to support work at peak times.
“We review fixed-term contracts on an annual basis and, where appropriate, we will consider moving these to a non-fixed term status.”
Photograph: Venus Loi