Fair employment

Vice-Chancellor's message of 6 December 2019

Dear Colleagues,

I would like to thank you for the professionalism you’ve shown during the recent period of industrial action, particularly as I know some of you have had to make some difficult decisions regarding your own position in relation to the issues under dispute.

I also want to reassure you that throughout the negotiating period on both the USS pension and the national pay negotiation disputes I’ve been talking to UUK and UCEA about the need to continue to discuss and find a resolution to both of these matters and I am hopeful that further talks will take place in the coming weeks that address and resolve these issues.

While some of the issues involved in the strike are national (pensions and pay) others can be resolved through proactive local bargaining (such as contract standardisation and working conditions). This means that together we can make changes without a national agreement.

I know when we work together as a community, for example the work that was completed by the climate emergency group, we can tackle complex issues successfully. I would therefore like to build on this approach to develop ideas with you further, as well as with representatives of the campus Trade Unions, the Students’ Guild and the Students’ Union to improve working conditions across the institution. I have therefore established a Fair Employment working group which has been commissioned to decide what our priorities should be, and what future actions we should take in this regard. We are also interested in hearing the views of the wider University community, and next Monday’s Weekly Bulletin will give more information on how colleagues can contribute to shaping this important piece of work.

The background to the work of the group is important context and demonstrates, I believe, our continued commitment to improve the working conditions of colleagues working here at the University which have included: making changes to Grades B and C as part of our commitment to offer a competitive reward package, paying the voluntary Living Wage to contracted staff and casual workers, re-opening the Band 4 contribution rate for members of ERSS in Spring 2019 (the pension scheme for colleagues in Grade B-D), as well as launching our sector-leading parental benefits for all. We have also made improvements to our pay scales for Lecturers and Senior Lecturers.

In addition to this, you will recall that in September 2018, we announced new contracting arrangements for Postgraduate Teaching Assistants, and we engaged with the UCU and our Postgraduate Research (PGR) community in 2018/19 to review those arrangements and agree improvements for 2019/20 which have ensured all PTAs are now on annualised contracts so they can benefit from the additional security this brings. However, we recognised that these changes could be further enhanced and so on 1 August 2019, we wrote to the UCU inviting them to participate in discussions to improve our approach to Fair Employment and working conditions.

We want to move ahead with these discussions at speed in the New Year and think we can make significant progress by identifying positive changes in the following areas:

• 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, which we recognise is a concern for members of our PGR community working as PTAs.
I hope this update gives you confidence in the continuous steps we are taking at the University to make local improvements to your, and your colleagues', working conditions, as well as the changes we would like to implement next year.

Thank you once again for your continued support, especially at what I know as been a very challenging time for our whole community.

With best wishes,

Professor Sir Steve Smith

The University aims to provide employment opportunities which meet our business needs and match our employment standards and values. 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.

Does the source of funding influence the use of fixed-term or open-ended contracts?’

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)


Use of Fixed Term and Casual Employment at the University of Exeter

You may have seen discussion last week of the number of academic colleagues working on temporary or casual contracts. 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.

Vice-Chancellor's email of September 2018

Dear Colleagues

As we look to the start of the new academic year, I wanted to share an update with you about the work we’ve been doing to improve the contracting arrangements for our postgraduate students.

As you may know, in the past our postgraduate students have been engaged by the University to deliver work on a casual basis, which means they have not been able to access the full range of benefits on offer to colleagues on permanent, or fixed term contracts.

To ensure our postgraduate students are treated equally to those on similar working patterns, from 24 September 2018, postgraduate students undertaking regular scheduled work will be employed on an annualised contract rather than as casual workers. The new arrangements will run as a pilot in 2018/19 so that we can assess if any further changes are necessary in the future.

The benefits this will bring include:

  • Greater professionalisation of the Postgraduate Teaching Assistant Role, including clear association with the Education and Scholarship Academic terms and conditions of employment.
  • Solid commitment from the University to provide work, and by the employee to undertake the work that has been agreed.
  • Access to benefits received by employees of the University, including sickness benefits, parental leave, and annual leave.
  • Participation of postgraduate students in induction/probation/training and Performance Development Review procedures (via ePDR) - payment will be made for participating in these activities.
  • Membership of the University’s pension scheme arrangements “Universities Superannuation Scheme”.
  • Enhancing our students’ experience by supporting our research students to acquire professional and personal skills that will enhance their future employment opportunities

Communication about this change has been shared with relevant colleagues and students across the University and the People Services team are currently in the process of issuing contracts.

Further information can be found on the main PTA website, and frequently asked questions for managers and postgraduate students/postgraduate teaching assistants can be found on the PTA Guidance for Managers webpages, and the PTA Guidance for Employees webpages.

However, if you do have further queries that cannot be clarified through the above links, please refer to the following contacts who are available to provide advice relating to these changes.

Thank you for taking the time to read about these important changes.

With best wishes

Professor Sir Steve Smith,Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive