Go back

Up to 30,000 fixed-term university jobs at risk, says UCU

Image: JJ Ellison [CC BY-SA 3.0] via Wikimedia Commons

Union singles out four institutions as fears of Covid-related job losses grow

The University and College Union is urging its members to pressure universities to offer more support for staff on fixed-term contracts.

As fears of job losses due to the coronavirus pandemic rise, the UCU has singled out four universities which it claims typify the current challenges facing such staff.

At King’s College London, the UCU says that “over a thousand fixed-term staff have been told their contracts are under review” and at the University of Liverpool “more than 600 face the sack”, the union says. At Goldsmiths, University of London, the number at risk is “around 400”, and close to 300 casual staff are at risk of losing their jobs at the University of Essex, it claims.

“That means 2,280 jobs are likely to go at just four institutions that the union has been told about,” the UCU said in a statement—adding that if this picture was repeated across the sector, then almost 30,000 fixed-term contracts could be at risk.

A spokesperson for the University of Liverpool said that its “current position” was that 313 appointments were “due to end in the period up to 31 August 2020” from its workforce of 7,000.

The spokesperson said the university was “not able to artificially extend fixed term contracts to draw on the furlough scheme or continue to pay staff, where there is no ongoing requirement for the work beyond their defined end dates”. Where contracts are coming to an end, the university has offered “other support” such as the opportunity to go into its redeployment scheme, they added.

A spokesperson for Goldsmiths said 343 associate lecturers and graduate trainee tutors would see their fixed-term contracts expire before the end of October. Of these, 88 have permanent status or another permanent role at the university, meaning 255 teaching staff roles will expire.

The university says it will consider contract renewals in September, when it has “a better idea of the impact of Covid-19 on student numbers and our finances”.

“It is normal for contracts to end in this way, and it would be extraordinary and unprecedented for us to look to extending them over the student summer holidays, when the vast majority of these teaching staff would not normally be employed by us,” said the spokesman.

Susie Morgan, director of people and culture at the University of Essex, said it was “not the case that there will be no fixed-term teaching roles” at the institution next year, but that “right now we cannot make any promises about teaching opportunities” for the next academic year.

“We will make decisions over the summer, once we have a revised academic programme for next year and the student recruitment picture and financial position are clearer,” she added. “The vast majority of fixed-term contracts concluding in the coming 12 months are related to temporary cover, temporary external funding sources for research, or students coming to the end of studentships and no longer being eligible for graduate teaching roles.”

Research Professional News has contacted King’s College London for comment.

The UCU is urging its members to endorse 10 pledges that it says will “defend their colleagues on insecure and fixed-term contracts who are facing an uncertain future”. These include writing to MPs about the need to guarantee funding for post-16 education.

“Students would be stunned to learn how much of their teaching is done by staff who have no real security and don’t even know if they’ll have a job this year,” said UCU general secretary Jo Grady.

“Universities have made promises that they will be delivering high-quality teaching both online and face-to-face in the autumn. You cannot deliver that by sacking thousands of people.”