Casualisation at the University of Birmingham

January 10, 2017 § 1 Comment

BUCU statement on the extent of casualisation at the University of Birmingham

On Thursday 17th November, the University of Birmingham officially responded to a flurry of press articles – (and one article in particular) accusing universities of making extensive and excessive use of precarious – otherwise known as ‘casualised’ – labour for the purposes of teaching in higher education.

The statement – (which you can find here) – transparently outlines the management’s position on the evidence that the University of Birmingham is the Russell Group university with the largest extent of casualisation amongst its teaching workforce.

The research reported by the Guardian found that the proportion of teaching and teaching-and-research staff on temporary or ‘atypical’ contracts at the University of Birmingham is 70.3%. In its reply, the University argued the contrary: that “only a small fraction of teaching (about 7%)” is done by members of staff employed through these contracts “because most of them are engaged for a small fraction of a full-time equivalent post”.

Later in the statement, the University proceeded to argue that this work is primarily carried out by two categories of staff that we often encounter in our casework – (1) “expert visiting lecturers, from commerce, industry and the professions” and (2) research students teaching whilst doing their research degrees. In a separate intramural response to the article, the University added that research students make up 56% of teachers on ‘atypical contracts’. How does the University of Birmingham justify this?

In the case of research students, the University believes that the use of casual contracts is justified by the fact that the work provides “valuable experience in teaching for research students who aspire to be academics… and it provides financial support for students”. If managers surveyed the issues on the ground, they would know that research students are concerned by the fact that the University grossly misrecognises the extent to which they rely on this work to fund their studies and career progression.

BUCU believes that the University of Birmingham does not act as a good employer by relying on such contracts for such a high proportion of teaching, and also believes that this directly undermines the quality of teaching – a benchmark which has so far been sustained only by the extraordinary efforts of our existing members and colleagues.

Equally derogatory in the response by the University is the conjecture that work conducted towards what it admits is “specialist teaching” is not the main source of income for most expert professionals, “but rather provides an opportunity to share their expertise and professional experience with our students”. Even though these professionals do the same work as everyone else, share offices and classrooms with us, and are excellent educators, the University regards their work as less important. To be more precise, the University judges the importance of specialist teachers’ work as contingent on the experience that they imbue students with, whilst denying them fair pay for their skills because they are not home grown, have not worked in academia, or do not have PhDs. This, too, must stop.

BUCU therefore demands that the University immediately stop using ‘experience’ as an excuse to undermine the needs and demands of casualised staff – who are more than articulate enough to communicate to managers when and what additional support is needed, as work is done for money, and work that does not pay is simply exploitative and unfair.

The University cannot expect staff to remain silent about the fact that their employer is taking lightly its duty of care and its responsibilities towards the employees that it depends on in order to function. In response, BUCU is acting to stamp out casual contracts at the University of Birmingham, and will continue to do so until the University ceases to judge staff on the basis of their official hourly contribution to teaching at this institution as a proportion of FTE. This is because the extent of casualisation – and therefore the true quality of higher education – cannot be assessed only by the official number of hours worked by members of staff on casual contracts, but rather also by considering the sheer amount of unpaid work that has kept the quality of education from collapsing due to poor management responses to government pressure and reforms.

For example, a ‘Teaching Diaries Survey’ organised by Warwick Anti-casualisation (the University of Warwick is second for casualisation in the Russell Group) showed that 23% of respondents reporting working without a written contract. Furthermore, considering the full range of responsibilities of hourly-paid tutors, these front-line members of staff worked an average of 2.6 unpaid hours per week. Of these hours, an average 1.5h per week were spent on unpaid admin and emailing, and an average of 1.7h per week on preparation. Additionally, even when considering unpaid hours, 24% of these front-line teachers received an actual wage below the National Living Wage of £7.20 per hour, whilst 32% live below the Living Wage of £8.20 per hour. (You can find the full results of their survey here:

The example of casualised staff at Warwick – with whom we stand in solidarity – demonstrates that there is something deeply wrong with higher education. In the case of Birmingham, there is a huge gap between management’s figure of 7% and the press and union figure of 70%. This gap is due to a direct exploitation of necessary academic labour-time that employees are willing to do but that employers are unwilling to pay for. Or as UCU put it:

“Full-Time Equivalence is a very bad way of looking at people with part-time contracts. People employed on very small ‘FTE’ contracts simply disappear within aggregations of Full-Time Equivalence. All the Universities are showing is that there are a lot of people on small contracts.

But more seriously, it’s also deeply misleading to try to measure the work done by thousands of hourly paid lecturers by calculating their FTE as though they were full-time lecturers. Hourly paid teachers are contracted for a small number of teaching hours and their FTE will always look small. Full-time lecturers are contracted to teach, administer and research. One or two hourly-paid lecturers may do the same amount of teaching in a week as a full-time lecturer but their ‘FTE’ will be a tiny fraction of this, maybe only one day a week. And this doesn’t even get into the systematic underpayment of hourly paid lecturers relative to the work they do.

This is, of course, one of the reasons why universities have been so happy to employ hourly-paid lecturers in such large numbers. They get more classroom time for their money. Using FTE in this way is simply a way of hiding the amount of work being done by hourly-paid lecturers”.

We therefore stand in solidarity with colleagues in UCU by claiming that “If Universities really want to come clean on the ‘student experience’, they should publish the proportion of classroom tuition hours that are taught by staff on insecure contracts. We await their response”.

BUCU Casualised and Postgraduate Staff Working Group, 9 Jan 2017



Further reading:

Sally Hunt (UCU General Secretary) spoke to Times Higher Education:

UCU also explained in more detail why the employers conjuring tricks don’t work on the WonkHE blogsite


Anti-casualisation resolution

November 23, 2016 § Leave a comment

This Branch acknowledges without endorsing the action taken by casualised staff in the School of Government and Society to withhold registers until they had all been issued contracts and paid in full for work undertaken in good faith. It views the apparent breakdown in relations between the University management and a key section of the teaching community to be indicative of a widespread and dismissive attitude taken by the University management towards those teaching on casual (fixed-term) contracts, across the University as a whole.

BUCU finds it unacceptable that the University management considers it a permissible practice to employ staff to undertake teaching and then fail to pay them. This represents unacceptable treatment of those who are already employed on low incomes, have little job security, yet perform work that is crucial to the operation of the University.

The Branch therefore instructs the branch committee to engage in action to bring to the attention of staff and students the condition of casualised staff across the university, informing them of the action taken by staff in Government and Society, and to actively attempt to develop solidarity between casualised staff and permanent staff at both the local and university level.

Adopted 23 November 2016

Saturday examinations resolution

November 23, 2016 § Leave a comment

This branch notes with considerable concern the unilateral move by the University management to introduce Saturday examinations without any prior consultation or agreement with UCU, despite UCU being the recognised representative of academic and academic-related staff at the University of Birmingham.

Weekend working is widely recognised as poor practice in terms of work-life balance and equality issues in that it clearly discriminates against those with caring duties, the majority of which continue to fall disproportionately on the shoulders of women. Family unfriendly working times therefore have a disproportionately detrimental effect upon women and it is established in employment law that such practices represent a form of sex discrimination.

If the University of Birmingham management wish to have their declared commitment to equality and diversity taken seriously, then they should consult staff before changing working times, and they should avoid the introduction of family unfriendly working practices.

For these reasons, University of Birmingham UCU calls for a reversal of the proposal to introduce Saturday examinations, and instructs the branch committee to demand such a reversal from the University management. Failure by the branch negotiators to secure such an outcome should result in a further members’ meeting, where the branch can consider its response.

Adopted 23 November 2016

Workload Allocation Models

November 2, 2016 § Leave a comment

Resolution adopted by the University of Birmingham branch of UCU, 2 November 2011:

This branch rejects the imposition of 1760 working hours annually and a 40 hour working week and any WAM based on these figures and affirms the sector standard of 1650 hours as set by HEFCE/Research Councils UK (37.5 hours).

This branch reaffirms its commitment to the principle that all new Workload Allocation Models (WAMs), and changes to existing WAMs, must be agreed to beforehand by University of Birmingham UCU (BUCU).

The branch notes with concern that new WAMs appear to be being introduced across the University, in many instances without any prior consultation, negotiation or agreement with BUCU whatsoever, and in many cases creating a substantial change to existing terms and conditions of employment.

In the case of the Birmingham Business School (BBS), this has resulted in an increase in working hours of up to 280 extra hours work per year – without any consultation, negotiation or agreement whatsoever.

The branch instructs the branch officers to object in writing with immediate effect upon discovering any new or changed WAM that has been introduced without union agreement.

The branch calls for the branch officers to provide regular updates on current negotiations with the University on the WAM and especially its recent communications with BBS on this issue.

The branch also instructs the branch officers to ensure that any WAM that is agreed – either at University, College, School or Departmental level – be done in a way that is transparent to the degree that the principles and calculations of the WAM are available to all affected staff.

The branch further insists on the need for transparency and consistency in the calculation of any workload allocation that may occur outside of the WAM, and for prior consultation and agreement with the affected staff before any changes are introduced.

Birmingham UCU calls off strike as University takes redundancies off the table

June 24, 2016 § Leave a comment

Birmingham UCU calls off strike as University takes redundancies off the table

University of Birmingham academic and related staff called off their threatened strike today as the University management eventually withdrew its proposal to make staff in Modern Languages redundant.

This brings to an end a round of compulsory redundancies that were threatened in Modern Languages, Neuroscience and Pharmacology, Engineering, and Hydrogeology – all now concluded without any compulsory redundancies. It also marks what the union hopes will be a new approach to any future restructuring at the University.

Roland Brandstaetter, UCU Birmingham branch president, said, “This represents a huge victory for our branch. The University of Birmingham has pursued a series of reorganisations, all coming with proposed compulsory redundancies, over the past 12 months, which exposed over 100 members of staff to the health risks associated with the biggest work-related stress factor that there is – that of losing their jobs. We are glad that the University has now taken these proposals off the table and we hope that we can prevent any such job and health-threatening proposals in the future.”

For more details contact Roland Brandstaetter, University of Birmingham UCU Branch President: rolandbrandstaetterrb[@]

BUCU statement on University of Birmingham governance

April 13, 2016 § Leave a comment

It is now over a week since we called for a full investigation into the financial affairs of the Chancellor of the University of Birmingham, Lord Bilimoria. We remain very concerned about the reputation of the University of Birmingham. Despite several messages from the University management about the apparently “challenging environment for the sector” – no mention whatsoever has been made of the fact that Lord Bilimoria has been the subject of considerable discussion in the international media, as a result of his connections with offshore tax havens.

It is starting to look as if this so-called “challenging environment” is simply something that is conveniently referred to whenever staff seek to maintain their existing pay rates in the face of ongoing inflation – regardless of the University’s earnings or ability to pay – or whenever the University feels a justification for proposed redundancies is needed. In his most recent e-mail our Vice-Principal refers to “increased costs from this year due to pensions (£3.5m a year), National Insurance (£4.4m a year), the apprenticeship levy (£1.5m a year) and for work permits for overseas staff (£182k a year)”, all of which sum up to about £10M, i.e. only about 20% of last year’s surplus, and allowing for a £15-20M investment in a new hotel and conference centre.

A quick google search for Lord Bilimoria reveals that his offshore company – Mulberry Holdings – is a company related to the fallout of his bankrupted earlier company, Cobra Beer. It appears that Lord Bilimoria himself earned £3.2 million in dividends from that company, at the same time as it was about to go bankrupt!

The University’s recent actions, and silences, raise a number of questions that need to be answered:

  • Why has the University of Birmingham issued no statement on the financial affairs of its own Chancellor, despite being the only university chancellor in the country to be exposed by the Panama Papers leak?
  • Why was Lord Bilimoria considered to be a suitable leader of this University in the first place? Who made this decision, and according to what criteria?
  • If we face such a “challenging environment”, then why do we have a Vice Chancellor earning £416,000 per year, one of the highest in the country? Why was our most recent operating surplus £45 million? Why is the average salary of UEB members £145,000?

We would like to encourage you to vote in both of the current UCU ballots ongoing at present – on local industrial action on redundancies, and on national industrial action on pay.


BUCU statement on Lord Bilimoria, University of Birmingham Chancellor

April 6, 2016 § Leave a comment

It has become apparent that Lord Bilimoria, the University of Birmingham’s Chancellor, has recently been exposed for having connections with one of the offshore tax havens detailed in the recent “Panama Papers” leaks.

This has resulted in national and international press coverage and raises extremely serious questions about the Chancellor’s financial operations.

Guardian coverage here

Coverage in student paper, The Tab, here

BUCU are absolutely opposed to the use of offshore tax havens, or the support of their use, as a means of undermining the tax revenues of the national government. Indeed, in a time when we are constantly reminded of the need for austerity, it absolutely beggars belief that a leading member of this university appears to have actively contributed to the dwindling of government resources.

That such a development should occur at the University of Birmingham also raises serious questions that go the heart of the operation of this university. We have one of the highest paid vice-chancellors in the country; and now it seems we have the only university chancellor in the country that is exposed by the Panama Papers leak. It is absolutely unacceptable to run a university in a way that shows concern only for private individual gain, profit, and status, without concern for scientific progress or the contribution that higher education can make to wider society.

BUCU notes that the Prime Minister of Iceland, Singmundur Gunnlaugsson, has been forced to resign as a result of the same leaks, despite his claims that he was not personally implicated. Indeed, the very business of tax havens is such that arms-length associations are a means by which direct personal involvement is concealed.

BUCU calls for a full investigation into Lord Bilimoria’s financial affairs, and for an end to any association between this University and the shadowy world of tax havens and offshore finance which threatens to damage the reputation of all who work here.

BUCU committee