The University of Oxford has been called out by an education union for its short-term contracts which have left staff "at risk of poverty". 

A scathing report published by the Oxford branch of the University and College Union in October has shone a spotlight on “casualised academic work” in the university’s department for continuing education (OUDCE).

Data gathered by the union’s survey revealed that hundreds of university and college staff members are effectively locked into a cycle of short, or very short-term contracts, sometimes lasting decades.

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It further highlighted that once marking and preparation time is factored in, the pay of hourly paid workers often amounts to less than the national living wage.

Salaried staff often remain on small fractional contracts and are "at risk of poverty", the data also shows.

A spokesman for the University and College Union said: “The current funding model for much UK research often allows employers to blame the system for their choice of employment practices.

“But we should be clear, they are choices, and the worst practices are not confined, as one might expect, to the least financially secure institutions.

“There is no excuse for insecure employment or zero hours contracts.”

The union’s report states that “women are especially affected by these conditions, since they are much more likely to occupy casualised roles".

It adds: “The evidence suggests that extremely low pay produces a lack of ethnic and socio-economic diversity, and discriminates against disabled staff.”

Oxford Mail: The University of Oxford has been criticised for its short-term contracts The University of Oxford has been criticised for its short-term contracts (Image: Newsquest)

Satirical magazine Private Eye reported in its festive special edition that UODCE faces a legal challenge from two formerly long-standing tutors on the masters creative writing course, which is due to be heard at Reading employment tribunal in January.

The magazine reported that Rebecca Abrams and Alice Jolly – both of whom are successful fiction authors – are challenging the university’s use of “inappropriate precarious casual contracts for teaching staff, especially when it used their names to advertise the course to prospective students”.

In response to the data gathered by the union’s report, a spokesman for the University of Oxford said: “Oxford University Department for Continuing Education is in the final stages of a review of its course offering and staffing structure.

“Our Lifelong Learning Portfolio Project will align the department’s academic portfolio and operations with university processes and OUDCE’s mission, vision and values.

“To deliver our portfolio, the new staffing model, developed after a comprehensive external and independent review in which the part-time tutor community was actively involved, will ensure an equitable and strategically focused approach and will extend the range of contractual options available to OUDCE tutors.

"The new portfolio and the revised staffing arrangements will be implemented from the academic year 2024-25 and will be fully in place well in time for the department’s 150th anniversary in 2028.”


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This story was written by Matthew Norman, he joined the team in 2022 as a Facebook community reporter.

Matthew covers Bicester and focuses on finding stories from diverse communities.

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