Passed motion: post-contract support for precarious academic contracts

At our branch meeting today (20/02/2019), the following motion was duly passed.

This branch notes that:

  • A UCU report from April 2016 suggested that up to 82% of academics at ‘UoL institutes and activities’ are on insecure contracts, above the national average of roughly half of academic staff in the UK (UCU 2016). In 2013, the latest year for which figures are available, only three UK HEIs had more staff on insecure contracts than UoL/SAS.
  • By definition, precarity brings periods of unemployment. UCU recognised that casualised/insecure/precarious/atypical contracts are now ‘the early careers norm’ for academics: academics routinely face unemployment between insecure contracts, sometimes without an institutional affiliation (UCU 2016). This is not new—it was clear a decade ago that ‘precarious is one of the defining experiences of contemporary academic life’ (Gill 2009)—but the funding environment in the UK is making academic precarity more common and more extreme.
  • The normalisation of such periods of unemployment in the UK higher education sector means that they are not the personal responsibility of the employee but a structural issue within the sector (Loveday 2018).
  • Precarity damages mental health and careers (Moscone et al 2016). Academic ‘homelessness’ especially damaging in academia because periods without employment, an institutional affiliation, or a research home can lead to academics being ‘pushed out of, or deterred from, an academic career’ (Jones/Oakley 2018; Statement 1, Statement 2).
  • UCU’s ongoing national campaign against academic precarity aims to influence future policy, but academics currently in precarious contracts need immediate support.
  • As the national research centre for the humanities, SAS has a responsibility to model best practice in its support of the researchers it employs and hosts. It also has a duty of care to its staff and postdocs.
  • SAS currently offers follow-on, post-contract support for precarious/casualised/insecure academic staff on an informal, ad hoc basis.
  • Normalising that offer could bring institutional benefits to UoL/SAS at minimal cost and a better return on UoL/SAS’s investment in precarious research-active staff (who might be on an academic career trajectory but in an impact role; Statement 1) and its graduating PhD students. The benefits include supporting the continuation of research outputs and RPF activities, generating a larger and more representative representation of activities on SAS-Space, boosting postdoc and staff recruitment, and creating a stronger community for generating and collaborating on grant bids.

This branch resolves:

  • To call on UoL/SAS to commit to modelling best practice by offering a standard post-contract support package to all academic and research-active employees on precarious contracts, and to its graduating PhD students, for least one academic year or their following employment (whichever is sooner).
  • That, in the first instance, UoL explore low-cost, low-resources measures to benefit to precarious academic and research-active staff (including postdocs), UoL/SAS as an institution, and the broader UoL/SAS community. This exploration should be undertaken urgently and with input from affected academic and research-active staff (including postdocs and PhD students, who are soon-to-be postdocs), and UCU.
  • That the post-contract support package include, for example:
    • A non-stipendiary research affiliation;
    • An institutional SAS email address (so affiliates can access external resources and opportunities that require an academic email);
    • The ability to deposit outputs in the institutional repository, SAS-Space (so affiliates can avoid interruption to their REF-able publication record);
    • Access to online resources, for example Jstor (so affiliates can continue to access secondary literature for research);
    • Access to personal and professional development training and career services at SAS (so that affiliates can continue in their academic career development);
    • Access to physical research resources at SAS (including Senate House Library);
    • Access to hot desks, shared workspaces, or a research hub within SAS, SHL, or the relevant institutes (including Senate House Library if relevant);
    • The option of extension at the discretion of the head of the relevant institute or department; and
    • The same status, on the same terms, to PhD students who graduate from SAS (to strengthen alumni support while building the postdoc community).

Sources

Sophie A. Jones/Catherine Oakley, The Precarious Postdoc: Interdisciplinary Research and Casualised Labour in the Humanities and Social Sciences, Working Knowledge/Hearing the Voice (Durham University, 2018). http://www.workingknowledgeps.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/WKPS_PrecariousPostdoc_PDF_Interactive.pdf

Rosalind Gill, ‘Breaking the Silence: The Hidden Injuries of the Neoliberal University’, in R. Flood/R. Gill, eds., Secrecy and Silence in the Research Process: Feminist Reflections (Routledge, 2009). http://platform-hnu.nl/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/gill-breaking-the-silence-2.pdf

Vik Loveday, The Neurotic Academic: Anxiety, Casualisation, and Governance in the Neoliberalising University, Journal of Cultural Economy 11/2 (2018), 154–166. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/17530350.2018.1426032

F. Moscone/E. Tosetti/G. Vittadini, ‘The Impact of Precarious Employment on Mental Health: The Case of Italy’, Social Science & Medicine158 (2016), 86–95. https://bura.brunel.ac.uk/bitstream/2438/13169/3/FullText.pdf

UCU, Precarious Work in Higher Education: A Snapshot of Insecure Contracts and Institutional Attitudes (April 2016). https://www.ucu.org.uk/media/7995/Precarious-work-in-higher-education-a-snapshot-of-insecure-contracts-and-institutional-attitudes-Apr-16/pdf/ucu_precariouscontract_hereport_apr16.pdf