Major progress made on reducing fixed term contracts

The University has made substantial progress in its commitment to significantly reduce the number of colleagues employed on fixed term contracts.

An aerial photograph of campus taken from above the Parkinson building

During 2023 we have embedded our approach of transferring colleagues to an ongoing contract when they receive a further substantive (greater than six months) contract after they have reached two years’ service. 

The percentage of University of Leeds colleagues on fixed term arrangements has been halved in a year, from 25% of total employees in July 2022 to 12.5% in August 2023. 

Professor Nick Plant, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research and Innovation said: “The University’s commitment to significantly reduce the use of fixed term contracts was made with the purpose of improving employment security for colleagues. Creating security and stability for all our colleagues is critical if we are to continue to develop and evolve as a community and collectively deliver our strategy.  

“We are pleased with the progress that has been made to date and remain committed to challenging our practice to further increase security for our staff.” 

Some tangible examples of this commitment include the Student Education Service, where Grade 4 and 5 posts are not appointed as fixed term and staff are deployed across the Service if and when their activity comes to an end. The Faculty of Medicine and Health and Faculty of Biological Sciences has refined established workforce planning processes resulting in fewer staff being put at risk of redundancy when their activity comes to an end. 

The School of Design has taken a strategic approach to the employment of its research staff in creating research roles that are not linked formally to a particular externally funded project.  

In line with the majority of the higher education sector, the School of Design has typically appointed a number of fixed term research staff to support external grants and industry-funded projects.  

This often means that the whole of an individual’s role is linked to a single project and associated grant funding. As a result, any extension to their activity is reliant on confirmation of continued support from the funder, and this can often come at short notice, creating uncertainty for the researchers and sometimes resulting in short-term extensions. 

The School’s vision was to create a cohort of researchers who could be allocated to support on various externally funded projects across the School whilst engaging with development opportunities, such as teaching, and still meeting the needs and deadlines of the projects.  

Professor Maria Lonsdale, Head of the School of Design said: “Working with HR, we reviewed the different subject specialisms within the School against the skills and experience of the researchers to determine if it would be possible to create a pool of research staff.   

“We wanted to allow staff to broaden their profile, be better integrated into the School, and to create greater career development opportunities, whilst also reducing the reliance on a single project for the role to continue. 

“The mix of skills required to deliver many of our projects, and the frequent industry and grant funded projects being awarded within Design, means we are confident that skilled people in such a pool can be allocated to deliver across a range of our activity.  

“We have therefore been able to define a Grade 7 research role that is not linked formally to a particular externally funded project, and which includes scope for grant application development, knowledge transfer, developing technical content for continuous professional development, and opportunity to undertake teaching.  

“This pool of talent has now grown to include 11 research fellows.” 

It is encouraging to see these changes, but we know that one size does not fit all, and these examples will not be appropriate across all areas and disciplines. Across the University, we continue to develop approaches that both boost job security and work in the local context. 

Due to the nature of some of the University's activity, and funding practices across the sector, we will continue to have roles that are time limited. In all cases, our commitment is to the individual, identifying follow-on opportunities within the University where they can continue to contribute using their skills and experience.  

We will continue to update colleagues on this progress. Further information about how the University is tackling pay, job security, equality, workload and wellbeing can be found on our dedicated In Depth page

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