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UCU tells UKRI to protect fixed-term researchers

University union tells research funder to continue employment of precariously employed workers during Covid-19 crisis

The University and College Union has urged the UK’s largest public funder of research to support precariously employed researchers during the coronavirus pandemic.

In a letter addressed to the chief executive of UK Research and Innovation Mark Walport dated 24 March, the UCU’s general secretary Jo Grady said the current disruption and uncertainty caused by Covid-19 was having a detrimental impact on the health, well-being and economic security of research staff.

“The impact on precariously employed workers remains a major concern to UCU as well as others in the higher education and research community,” she wrote.

She called on the government to extend current research grants and guarantee the incomes of fixed-term researchers at their current level.

UKRI and other research funders also have a “key role to play in supporting the continuing employment of precariously employed researchers over this period”, Grady added.

“For example, one of the practical ways for research funders to support early career researchers and fixed-term contract staff would be to enable principal investigators to redeploy any unspent direct costs such as on travel, conferences and workshops to extend researcher’s fixed-term contracts during this current period.

“We believe that a more flexible policy in this area would offer some additional security to fixed-term researchers, particularly give the likely disruption to new funding sources over the coming months.”

She urged UKRI to work with the higher education sector, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and other government departments to ensure the increased retention of fixed-term researchers during the crisis.

UKRI said they would be responding to the UCU directly.

“We recognise the serious challenges facing universities as well as the businesses, charities and research organisations we work with,” said a UKRI spokesperson. “We are committed to working closely and at pace with our communities and with the government to understand and respond to the impacts of Covid-19 and find the best solutions.”