Inside Track | Fairer future for all - reducing fixed-term contracts
Vice-Chancellor Simone Buitendijk and Chief People and Culture Officer, Paul Boustead, update on our efforts to reduce fixed term contracts as part of our drive to create a Fairer future for all.
Back in October I announced the University’s ambition to help create a Fairer future for all – for our staff, our students, and the wider world.
We made three pledges to our staff, including to reduce fixed-term contracts. We all know job insecurity is a problem across the higher education sector, but we can and should do better – and I want the University of Leeds to be at the forefront of a sector-wide change.
So I’m really pleased to announce that we are planning to be on course to more than halve the number of fixed-term contracts in current use. We’re going to do this by converting the majority of fixed term contracts where colleagues have served more than three years – or possibly even less – to ongoing contracts.
By 2023, I want us to be one of the leading institutions in the sector when it comes to having a low proportion of staff on fixed-term or temporary contracts, and to inspire other universities to follow our lead. We will, of course, consult formally with our trade unions and the individuals affected.
In the video above, our Vice-Chancellor Simone Buitendijk updates on our efforts to reduce fixed-term contracts as part of our drive to create a Fairer future for all.
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Along with our students, our staff are our most valuable asset – you make this University the special place it is. From extending the Christmas closure period for the past two years, to increasing the amount of carers’ leave colleagues could take during the pandemic, we are committed to supporting you and making the University an attractive and rewarding place to work.
I’ll write more in the coming months about our other pledges to staff – supporting a healthy and fulfilled staff community and creating opportunity and celebrating success – and our Chief People and Culture Officer, Paul Boustead, provides more detail below on the changes we are going to make on fixed term contracts.
For now I hope you’ll welcome this really positive step forward, as we strive to make our University a more compassionate and inclusive place.
Creating security and stability for all our community is critical if we are to continue to develop and evolve as an institution, embed our new values and deliver our strategy. Traditionally the sector has not always been effective in developing leading employment practices. We are leading the way and changing this at the University of Leeds.
As Simone mentioned, last year we announced our ambition to create a Fairer future for all as part of our 10-year strategy. This ambition has our staff very much at its heart and is underpinned by our values of collaboration, compassion, inclusivity and integrity.
To this end, we pledged to:
- Reduce short-term contracts and boost job security
- Support a healthy and fulfilled staff community
- Create opportunity and celebrate achievements
The first two pledges are very much interlinked and, in essence, this initiative is an effort to make us a happier community.
Arguably, the most significant of these pledges is the move away from fixed and short-term contracts to open-ended or on-going contracts. Unfortunately, the higher education sector currently relies a lot on fixed and short-term contracts. The theory is that they allow flexibility, and much of our funding structure – for example grant awards – is based on their use.
But we need to start to make a step change for two reasons.
- They take a short-term view and so don’t encourage us to develop our people to their full potential in the longer term. And as a result, everyone suffers. The world doesn’t get the benefit of that full potential to carry out our world changing research, train the next generation of global citizens, or perform the essential roles that underpin these endeavours.
- They have a human cost. A contract is a piece of (virtual) paper. It doesn’t know or recognise, that because of financial uncertainty, it may affect people getting a mortgage or planning for the future, which are real-world consequences that people face, and that's not good for a sense of belonging or stability and it gets in the way of the basic requirements to live a happy life.
As we say, this a higher education sector wide issue, especially for research-intensive universities like ours and affects all staff groups, including professional services and support staff as well as academics.
So what are we going to do about it?
We have to be realistic; we will probably never completely end the use of fixed and short-term contracts. Indeed, some people do welcome the flexibility they provide, are comfortable with them, and build a work/life balance around them. They are also frequently used to provide short term employment opportunities and valuable work experience for our students. Also, they are hardwired into certain areas of academic life and funding, and one university alone cannot change this overnight.
However, we are aiming to more than halve the number of fixed-term contracts in current use at Leeds. We will do this by converting the majority of fixed term contracts where colleagues have served more than three years - or possibly even less - to ongoing contracts. Alongside this, we will improve our governance and ensure consistency in the use of employment contracts across the University – there are currently about 30 different types. This needs to be drastically simplified, to make things fairer and more transparent. By early 2023 we plan to be one of the leading institutions in the sector when it comes to the proportion of our staff on fixed term or temporary contracts. And our hope is that other universities will follow our lead.
We are committed to making these changes and they will be implemented during the remainder of 2022, pending a formal consultation process with our trade unions and individuals.
Ultimately this will be a collaborative, community effort, because it affects us all, directly or indirectly, and the type of organisation we are and want to be. It's especially important that everybody feels part of making this change, and part of our desire to create a Fairer future for all.
We recognise and your feedback underlines the fact that our entire university community feels that we need to create a better working life and environment, particularly our younger colleagues, or those just starting their careers in academia or in professional and support services. The enactment of this particular Fairer Future for All pledge, is the start of a journey we want to go on with ongoing input and support from staff to create an even more promising future for us all at the University of Leeds.
Chief People and Culture Officer