Credit: Rosie Hampton

Casualisation of staff contracts on the rise at UofG

By Kimberley Mannion

Fixed-term contracts have increased for staff across all colleges of the University, with women and BAME staff more likely to experience casualisation. 

An investigation by The Glasgow Guardian has found that the number of academic staff employed on fixed-term contracts at the University of Glasgow has increased by 16.1% over the last four years. The use of these contracts has increased in each of the University’s four colleges and disproportionately affects women and BAME members of staff. 

The proportion of BAME staff on fixed-term contracts has increased over the four year period. In the current year, half of all staff employed on fixed-term contracts, who have declared their ethnicity, are BAME, whereas this proportion was a quarter in 2018-19. 

A disparity is also visible in casualisation between men and women. Currently, women make up a greater proportion of fixed-term employees than men, yet there is a greater number of male employees than female.  

Simultaneously, the use of open-ended contracts fell by 7.2% between 2018 and 2022. This is despite the fact that the University’s website states its aim to be for “open ended contracts continue to be the contractual norm”. 

The issue of increased casualisation of staff contracts was one of the ‘four fights‘ behind the University and College Union (UCU)’s proposed 18 day period of strike action, which was cancelled halfway through, and behind industrial action which has taken place semesterly for the last several years. 

According to the University and College Union (UCU)’s most up to date figures, almost one third of academics in the UK are employed on fixed-term contracts. The University of Glasgow’s own current figures are significantly higher than this national average, with the most recent figure of 2022 standing at 45.4% of academic staff. This was 38.1% in the year 2021, for which the national UCU’s one third figure accounts. 

The faculty which saw the greatest increase in the use of fixed-term contracts over the four year period was the College of Arts, with an increase of just short of double during the four year period. At school level, amongst the starkest examples of the increased use of casual contracts were: the School of Humanities which increased its proportion of academics on fixed-term contracts by 34.8%, the School of Education with an increase of 24.4%, and the School of Veterinary Medicine which grew by 19.7%.  

As well as fixed-term and permanent contracts (which the University calls open-ended contracts), another type is used called ‘open-ended with funding end date’ (OEFE). This contract is used where a position is dependent on a particular project funded by an external project. The University website states these contracts are “designed to continue the University’s aim that open-ended contracts continue to be the contractual norm”. Yet, just 18.3% of staff are currently employed on permanent contracts. The UCU says that these OEFE contracts often end in redundancies and thus precarity for the staff employed on them.

In its response to The Glasgow Guardian’s FOI, the University explained that minimising the use of fixed-term contracts is difficult with research staff in particular, since research is often funded by external grant awarding bodies on a fixed-term basis. The University’s Vice Chancellor, Professor Anton Muscatelli, spoke on the issue of precarity at a Times Higher Education summit in October 2022, stating that more pressure must be put on funding bodies to acknowledge the role they play. Speaking in New York, the principal stated: “There is no way any university could guarantee a completely open-ended contract without having funding that is more than 12 or 24 months, it just can’t work. We would have to paradoxically shrink the size of our research base which would not be helpful either. What we have to do is talk to funders and persuade them to think along much longer horizons. I do think there is a conflict on this issue.”

The staff most likely to be employed on these casual contracts are Graduate Teaching Assistants (GTAs). These staff who take on teaching whilst also completing their own PhD projects make up 80% of the UofG academics currently on fixed-term contracts. Of the total number of staff employed by the University, GTAs makeup 37%.

A source now employed as a tutor on an open-ended contract within the School of Social and Political Sciences who previously worked as a GTA on a fixed-term contract told The Glasgow Guardian that at the time of her being moved on to a permanent position, the School informed her that she was being awarded the contract because the School was facing a potential legal risk due to the amount of staff being continuously employed on subsequent fixed-term contracts of one or two years.

At a UCU teachout meeting on the topic of casualisation, at which The Glasgow Guardian was present, Rosie Hampton, the UCUG GTA rep, described her experience in discussing the issue of casualisation with the University of Glasgow’s HR department. She said staff in HR did not appear to see the number of GTAs on insecure contracts as a pressing issue, with one commenting that GTAs were only in their role “for a bit of extra cash”.

While on a fixed-term contract, GTAs are paid for marking on a rate per essay, which is calculated based on the number of minutes it is expected to take them to complete. The number of minutes allocated varies per subject. GTAs commented that while senior staff encouraged them to use marking time as a chance to reflect on their teaching, they cannot do this while watching the clock. Since taking longer than the expected minutes, which many comment is too little, means working unpaid, many GTAs note they cannot give the marking of essays the full credit they would like to. If employed on an open-ended contract, staff are salaried, so essay marking is not paid in this way. 

Another issue GTAs on casual contracts report having experienced is being asked to take lectures, which is not part of their job role. Since they will not be paid for this, including the prep time, some report being paid cash in hand by the lecturer they were filling in for, in replace of an official system from the University. Others cite being given a crate of beer or a gift voucher in compensation. 

Hampton, UCUG GTA rep, stated: “I’m not at all surprised by these figures. Year on year I see less of my colleagues able to find secure employment at Glasgow and the toll it takes on their well-being. Casualisation affects every part of our lives. Additionally, it’s abundantly clear that precarious employment is an equalities issue. The University has serious questions to answer on why women and BAME staff are more likely to be casualised. There’s nothing “world-leading” about a university that acts as though secure employment is a privilege for the select few.”

Professor Jeanette Findlay, who is running to be president of UCU Scotland, told The Glasgow Guardian that issues with casualisation can arise where the University employs GTAs on insecure contracts to carry out more and more teaching hours, in order to avoid hiring a full-time lecturer on a permanent contract.

A University spokesperson said: “The University is committed to engaging colleagues on responsible contractual arrangements in a working environment where everyone feels valued and is treated fairly and work is ongoing, in partnership with trade union colleagues, to review our use of fixed term contracts. The increase in academic colleagues on fixed term contracts over the period can be primarily attributed to the increase in opportunities for Graduate Teaching Assistants, Tutors and Demonstrators.”

The statement continued: “These colleagues are engaged on fixed-term contracts for up to three academic years where possible but may be engaged for one or two years based on the individual’s period of study. GTAs, Tutors and Demonstrators make a vital contribution to the University’s learning and teaching environment and have a particularly important role to play in ensuring an excellent experience for taught students. Opportunities for employment as a GTA also contribute to the academic experience of Postgraduate Researchers, helping to prepare them for future careers in academia and beyond, and fulfilling a key requirement of some funding bodies.”


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