Fair employment for all

With around 5,500 staff from 180 different countries we offer a diverse and engaging environment in which to work. We aim to provide employment opportunities which meet our business needs and match our employment standards along with our shared University values.

How can I be involved?

Colleagues will have the opportunity to contribute to shaping this important piece of work through their trade union or further engagement activities which the three reference groups will be conducting.


The Vice-Chancellor has established a Fair Employment For All working group.

The working group will focus on developing solutions for three key priorities:

  • Reducing the University’s use of casual employment, including ensuring all of our regularly timetabled teaching is delivered by colleagues employed on standard contracts of employment.
  • Significantly increasing our use of open-ended contracts of employment, recognising that fixed term contracts will be appropriate in a limited range of circumstances, such as cover for study leave and family leave.
  • Working towards standard paid time allowances for preparation, marking and associated activities for Postgraduate Research Students employed as PTAs.

The working group will engage with a broader range of stakeholders, including student and trade union representatives. 

The working group will meet monthly, with the first meeting in February. It will complete its review and make recommendations before the end of this academic year with a view to introducing improvements from September 2020. The outcomes of the review will be considered by the Joint Committee for Consultation and Negotiation and the Vice-Chancellor’s Executive Group.


Membership of the Working Group
Chair and Sponsor:  Professor Sir Steve Smith, Vice-Chancellor 
Deputy Chair:  Professor Janice Kay, Provost
Student Representatives  
Student’s Guild:  Ginny Thomas, Pro-Vice-President Postgrad Research
Students’ Union: Joe Rigby, President Exeter, Falmouth & Exeter Students’ Union
Trade Union Representatives  
University and College Union: Sharon Strawbridge, President University of Exeter branch of UCU
Unite:  Chris Forrest, Branch Secretary, Unite/ Exeter IT 
Unison: Jim Milnes, Branch Secretary, Unison 

PVC Rep:  

Professor Jo Gill
DCO Reps: Amie Fulton and Clare Wydell/Tom Begbie
Other members: Imelda Rogers, Director of HR
  Dr Michael Wykes, Director of PPBI
  James Hutchinson, Director of the SDU 
  Chris Merritt (Finance Services)

Reference Group Leads

Research reference group
Professor Neil Gow, Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research and Impact 
Professor Andy Jones, Assistant Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research and Impact


Education reference group

Professor Tim Quine, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Education) 

Professor Rob Freathy, Academic Dean of Students 


Professional Services reference group
Mike Shore-Nye, Registrar and Secretary 
Drs Astrid Wissenburg 



The University has taken the following steps to improve contractual arrangements for our workforce.

  • introduced business rules to ensure that a temporary contract is issued for longer assignments and that casual employment arrangements are only used for work which is ad hoc and short term.
  • agreed with trade unions the circumstances in which fixed term contracts should be used. Each time a fixed term contract is renewed, it is assessed against these standards and considered whether it should be converted to an open-ended appointment.
  • introduced the Living Wage for our contracted staff and for workers engaged on a casual basis.
  • following the Vice-Chancellor's message to staff in September 2018, moved Postgraduate Students who are employed to teach from casual work arrangements to contracts. Over 470 Postgraduate Teaching Assistant contracts were issued in 2018/19. Following positive engagement with the PGR community last year, further improvements have been made for 2019/20 - www.exeter.ac.uk/working/prospective/ptas/ (and VC email of 18/09/2018).
  • committed to reviewing the use of occasional teachers in the 2019/20 University year with the aim of introducing new contractual arrangements from the beginning of the 2020/21 academic year.

How fixed term contracts and casual employment are used at the University of Exeter.

As at 1 September 2019, 42% of the University’s academic staff are employed on fixed term contracts. Fixed term contracts are used only where this is appropriate and in accordance with the University’s agreement with trade unions on the use of fixed term contracts.

In addition to our core staff, other individuals contribute to the University’s education activity through occasional teaching and marking. These individuals are paid on a claims basis because they are engaged for short, specific pieces of work. They include PhD students engaged to enhance the student experience by supporting small group teaching, supporting practicals and demonstrating, and providing support sessions etc. They also include experts in professional fields outside of higher education who contribute to professional development programmes, such as the MBA and degree apprenticeships, by delivering masterclasses or supporting practical assessments. The short-term nature of these assignments mean that contracts are not appropriate.

Each year universities report information to the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) on the use of individuals engaged on casual working arrangements to support education. In 2016/17 and 2017/18, the total FTE (full-time equivalent) reported by the University of Exeter was 85.0 FTE and 90.8 FTE respectively, comprising just over 4% of our total academic FTE. In 2018/19, the FTE has reduced to 75.9 and 3.4% of our academic FTE as a consequence of the steps the University is taking to reduce the use of casual working arrangements. In 2018/19, the University moved Postgraduate Teaching Assistants on a contracted basis and over 470 of our postgraduate students benefited from this change. Departments are also reviewing their use of occasional teachers with a view to offering consolidated contracts. In addition, the University has introduced business rules to ensure that a temporary contract is issued for longer assignments and that casual employment arrangements are only used for work which is ad hoc and short term.

The national picture

The University and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) has published information from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) on employment contracts in the higher education sector. The graph below shows that the area where we see the higher percentages of fixed term contracts are in research appointments/fellowships and that this broadly mirrors the extent of funding from external sources, which are in general limited term research grants. Many research posts and research fellowships are funded by external sources on a time-limted basis. Researchers are often therefore employed on a time-limited research project or awarded a fixed duration research fellowship. In the main academic population, only a small proportion of staff are employed on fixed-term contracts, again mirroring the extent of external funding sources.

Does the source of the funding influence the prevalence of fixed term or open ended contracts? (graphic)