Responding to The Guardian’s assertion that 68.1% of teaching staff at Warwick are on “precarious contracts”, a spokesperson for the university has stated: “They got their figures really, really badly wrong.”
Precarious contracts are defined in The Guardian’s article as “zero-hour contracts”, “fixed-term contracts”, “short-term contracts that typically elapse within nine months”, and “those paid by the hour to give classes or mark essays and exams”.
Warwick placed second in a table which ranked the prevalence of precarious employment at Russell Group universities.
Peter Dunn, Warwick’s Director of Press and Policy, asserted the university’s belief that the figure is in fact much lower: “Looking across the university at all staff who are either specialist teachers, or are undertaking both research and teaching, on a full time equivalent basis 15% are on fixed term or hourly paid contracts and the remainder are employed on permanent contracts.”
The University were not contacted prior to the publication of The Guardian’s investigation.
Mr. Dunn explained the data which the newspaper had used, compiled by the Higher Education Statistics Agency, differentiated between “atypical” and “fixed-term contracts” – something which The Guardian did not do.
This you can see makes the table they created essentially meaningless, and it is not a surprise therefore that we do not recognise the statistic the newspaper quoted for temporary contracts among our teaching staff.
Peter Dunn, Director of Press and Policy
He said: “This you can see makes the table they created essentially meaningless, and it is not a surprise therefore that we do not recognise the statistic the newspaper quoted for temporary contracts among our teaching staff.”
The Higher Education Statistics Agency have released a statement in response to The Guardian’s report, making it clear: “The measures used in the comparison of universities’ employment practices add up staff with ‘Atypical’ contracts with staff on ‘Fixed-term’ contracts. These two populations are not comparable according to HESA definitions.
“The data does not distinguish ‘zero hours’ contracts or measure the ‘precariousness’ of individuals’ employment as this is not the purpose of the data collection.”
HESA also provided a full definition of what constitutes an “atypical” contract. On their terms, such contracts include: those which do not run for more than four consecutive weeks, “any one-off/short-term tasks”, and those which require “a high degree of flexibility often in a contract to work as-and-when required”.
Finally, Mr. Dunn added: “There will always be a need in universities to have some staff on flexible arrangements, but we do appreciate that this needs to be kept in balance at all times.”
Warwick SU responds
Nat Panda, Postgraduate Officer at Warwick Students’ Union (SU), responded to the University: “The University can argue over figures all it likes, but it does not change the reality: casualisation in Higher Education is a major issue, particularly at Warwick.
“Rather than contesting the legitimacy of such reports, the onus should be on the University to tackle the problem in the first instance — the irony of quoting “full-time equivalent” figures when talking about the countless members of staff who do not work full-time has apparently been lost on them.”
Nat continued: “Warwick’s record on fair working conditions for postgraduate teachers — first with TeachHigher and now with the Sessional Teaching Project — has thus far failed to adequately address the root causes of widespread dissatisfaction among staff and students on this issue.
“Actions ultimately speak louder than words, and until we see concrete steps to improve this situation, all their rhetoric is little more than defensive bluster.”
This article was updated with a comment from Nat Panda at 11am on Monday 21 November.