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to ask what lecturers, students & parents think - precarious employment in universities

(118 Posts)
morningtoncrescent62 Wed 16-Nov-16 18:10:09

I've just read this report claiming that universities are using a 'Sports Direct' model to employ lecturers, and the most prestigious universities are the worst. Are the percentages to be believed? The claim is that more than 50% of the staff at Russell Group universities are on precarious contracts which sounds like a huge proportion, and scandalous if it's true or anywhere near true. My DDs finished university before the £9,000 tuition fees (thank goodness!) but if I was a student or a parent now I'd be outraged if I or my children were being taught by people on rubbish pay and conditions which surely can only cost a fraction of the current tuition fees. Or am I being hopelessly naive?

calmingthoughts Wed 16-Nov-16 23:10:17

Haven't read the full article but I work for a university and yes a lot of us are on fixed term contracts - research and teaching jobs are rarely permanent. Having said that, as my funding has been extended many times I've actually been there for several years now, which really doesn't feel too different to any permanent job (which can still be precarious I believe). Perhaps I have a different attitude being used to it.

After a few years of working for my university (russell group), fixed term contact staff have the same rights as permanent staff when it comes to redeployment or redundancy. There are many disadvantages to working in academia (expectations of long hours etc.), but being on a fixed term contact never felt like one of them to me, though I think it does to some.

Those on hourly pay are likely to be lecturing as PhD students I think.

calmingthoughts Wed 16-Nov-16 23:11:13

Also, fixed term contracts/hourly pay would still pay on the same scanners as permanent staff

calmingthoughts Wed 16-Nov-16 23:11:27

* scales

LineyReborn Wed 16-Nov-16 23:13:12

Yes it's shit.

My last 'post' was unpaid, but 'prestigious'. Go figure.

thisisafakename Wed 16-Nov-16 23:24:02

Yes, is the link to the Guardian article? I currently work at a post-1992 university and am lucky enough to have a permanent, full time position. The use of 'sessional' or hourly paid staff is widespread across most universities and many of them are not PhD students, but have been doing it for years. I currently teach an average of 6 hours a week across the two semesters. If I was hourly paid, I would need to teach around 30 hours per week during term time just to get the same salary that I do now (not exactly spectacular- around 40k). There are nowhere near that many hours available. It's disgraceful in my opinion- sessional staff have very few employment rights and no job security. The two I know who have been doing it long-term live with their parents (in their 40s). I think they have both given up hope of ever being offered a full time permanent position. They do the same amount of teaching as me each week, but I get paid about 10 times their salary. I also have time to do my research and publishing, which they don't, because they have to work at other universities just to get enough money to be able to feed and clothe themselves.

I know one woman who I have less sympathy for though. She refused to consider taking a post at a non-Russell Group university (because she wanted the prestige) and instead took an hourly paid post at an RG uni. Pretty dumb in my opinion- she has been there three years now and not a hope of getting a permanent job.

calmingthoughts Wed 16-Nov-16 23:26:41

Sheesh fakename that does sound bad. Not my experience in research so may be worse and more widespread in teaching.

bluelilies Wed 16-Nov-16 23:29:36

The reason the Russell Group unis appear worse is because they do more research, and a lot of researchers work on short term contracts. The stats include research staff and lecturers all lumped together (not entirely easy to separate them as some do both)

Lecturing being paid hourly IS an increasing issue, but it's an issue at all types of university.

thisisafakename Wed 16-Nov-16 23:32:30

Yes, I think it is. My experience is limited to law teaching, where there are a large number of hourly paid lecturers. It's fine when you're doing your PhD, for a bit of extra cash, but when you are forced into it long-term, it must be soul-destroying. Read the interviews here from some long-term zero hours people:

hettie Wed 16-Nov-16 23:32:49

I lecture post grads, i have my own doctorate and it's a specialist area. I've been teaching for several years now. I'm on an hourly contract and the hourly rate is significantly less than I would charge for other activities.... Not great

bluelilies Wed 16-Nov-16 23:33:04

calming Staff on short term contracts would be on the same salary scales as permanent staff (though usually lower down them) But hourly paid staff most definitely aren't. They can be paid very little indeed when you factor in preparation time, etc

BackforGood Wed 16-Nov-16 23:33:37

Haven't read the article, but yes, it's normal to employ researchers / research fellows etc on fixed term contracts (and generally not great pay either, considering their qualifications and years of study when they weren't earning). A lot of lecturers at universities (more so at the 'top research' universities of course) are researchers. It's a great relief when, 20 odd years into your career you finally get your fist full time, permanent contract. hmm

throwingpebbles Wed 16-Nov-16 23:35:10

My friend has been campaigning on this for years. It is utterly horrifying. She was living in abject poverty as an (incredibly bright) academic on precarious contracts. She had to give it up in the end.
Profoundly depressing for the future of academia and higher education in this country

Anyone with children who may want to go to university one day should make this their business.

calmingthoughts Wed 16-Nov-16 23:36:42

Think I'm realising that my existence in my departments have been somewhat protected from this, in that we pay hourly rates when needed on the same scales, and fixed term contracts are quite protected.

Awful stories from the rest of you, I stand corrected and will probably look into this more at my own university.

IssyStark Wed 16-Nov-16 23:38:03

Also £9k fees do not represent a lot of money for unis as there has not been an increase in funding. Tuition fees have simply been moved from the govt paying to the parents/students paying. Thus students expect more as they are now paying but there is no more money in the system at all. £9k does not cover the cost of a any of the lab based degrees.

As mentioned above, many research only contracts are short-term as they are linked to specific grants, but the real scandal is hourly-paid lecturers which have increased throughout the sector. The casualisation of staff has many knock-on effects on quality assurance as these staff are not 'academic' staff and thus are unable to contribute to various forums and committees.

throwingpebbles Wed 16-Nov-16 23:42:24

It's also leading to a big "brain drain" either out of academia or abroad.

marfisa Thu 17-Nov-16 07:56:47

This describes my situation to a T. sad And no, I'm not a PhD student! I had no idea there were so many of us in the same boat to be honest. This year I have four different temp contracts at a very prestigious university, and the combined salary from all four jobs is ludicrously low. I live off my husband's income basically, but work bloody hard anyway.

I still have hopes of publishing my way into a permanent post but it's hard to do research when you're not being paid to do research, only to teach, and the teaching takes up so much time. You've got to be very motivated, organised and driven.

I love my subject but it's shocking how little one can earn with multiple post-grad degrees and years of teaching and research experience.

marfisa Thu 17-Nov-16 08:00:04

I have spent years mentally castigating myself for not having published enough, but the truth is that I need to stay sane and have time for my DC as well. And even having lots of publications is not a guarantee of finding well-paid, secure work. There are so few good posts on offer.

TheProblemOfSusan Thu 17-Nov-16 08:18:01

I work at a uni that's sort if top of middle, rankings wise, but am not a lecturer of any kind, professional services staff. I have a lot of student contact. It absolutely is true, in fact for my uni it's probably more than that. Some of our Visiting Lecturers are from professions, though, which is a bit different, but many are improperly employed academics. It's appalling, and it's done simply to save money, and it's detrimental to the students - these staff aren't paid to do lots of extra prep, help students after class, and they often don't know much about the wider picture of the uni because they're isolated from it, which makes it hard to advise students.

TheProblemOfSusan Thu 17-Nov-16 08:22:49

Note - I meant because the uni isolates them, not that they are doing it themselves - some of the most popular and skilled lecturers we have are hourly paid.

DrWhy Thu 17-Nov-16 08:25:39

Research posts tend to be fixed term, at least in the early years. It's the main reason I didn't go for one when I finished my PhD, despite having a 1st class degree, a couple of decent publications from the PhD and being in a very active field. I went into industry because I had a permanent role from day 1 and I wanted that security.

Brainrack Thu 17-Nov-16 08:27:15

Yes, those of us employed as university professional service staff, technicians, administrators, etc are often also on such short term contracts. It's a constant disquieting thought at the back of the mind - how will I be paying bills in two years time? will I still have a job? etc....but I recognise that those in 'permanent employment' also suffer the same worries!

The security of the university sector is going to get worse in the next year rather than better though, the uncertainty about whether and how many overseas students we'll be able to take on is hugely damaging at present.

museumum Thu 17-Nov-16 08:30:43

I teach at a prestigious university on a zero hours contract but it's not my main income. I'm self employed in the profession I teach.
So yes, academia is crap for pay and stability particularly BUT the figures do include a lot of people like me who choose a more casual relationship with the uni.

irregularegular Thu 17-Nov-16 08:31:44

I don't believe the numbers, especially as they were supposed to relate to people teaching, not research only. The article claims that over 60% of Oxford teaching staff are on temporary/precarious/non-standard contracts. I teach at Oxford and I just don't believe that is true - I would like to see how they got to that figure. The number for Cambridge was only 12%. It makes me wonder whether they are doing something odd like counting everyone with a joint University/College appointment as "non-standard".

Apart from that, clearly there is some bad practice going on and young academic need to get into it with open eyes.

ClaudiaApfelstrudel Thu 17-Nov-16 08:34:00

Yes! what a great thread. I have worked in Universities for the past eight years or so and the situation is disgraceful. Every academic year we have to 'reapply' for our own jobs, the hours are never guaranteed and reliant on student numbers.

Not only that but the standard of teaching is absolutely abysmal. I work in a languages department and 70-80% of the 'teachers' are no teachers at all but merely nationals of the particular country their language corresponds to. Most of them arrived at their jobs because they knew someone in the department and not remotely related to their ability to do the jobs.

Meanwhile the University is raking it in left right and centre

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