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UCU Edinburgh Criticises the University Regarding Contract Teaching Fellowship

Thursday 30th December 2021 01.47

The University of Edinburgh has come under fire for posting a Teaching Fellow job advertisement last month, on 28th October. 

Posted on the website LINGUIST List, the advertisement reads, “The School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences (PPLS) is seeking to appoint x3 full-time teaching fellows for a fixed-term period of approximately 8 months within its Linguistics and English Language department. This post is expected to commence in January 2022.” 

Brought to attention by University and College Union (UCU) Edinburgh through their Twitter account on 13 November, the UCU claim that this is a direct breach of the University and UCU Joint Statement signed back in March 2019. 

The statement affirms that the two parties agreed on the clause: “By the start of academic year 2020/21 teaching fellowship contracts will be offered for no less than one year’s duration…”. 

“As anti-casualisation officer AND as a PhD researcher AND precarious staff, I am fundamentally against these short-term contracts because they are just simply put, not good for the employees in any way,” says Aerin Lai, Assistant Secretary: Anti-Casualisation of UCU Edinburgh. 

She adds: “Taking on short-termed contracts makes it difficult for employees to make any plans or decisions such as moving. 

“They are not financially secure enough for employees to apply for flats (which landlord would be alright with somebody who may be out of a job in 8 months?), they don’t provide sufficient time and exposure needed for employees to develop skills for career progression, and frankly, it is just very anxiety inducing.” 

Consequently, UCU Edinburgh has raised this issue at a meeting with central HR and are already moving forward with discussion of how best to approach this matter when next in contact with senior management. 

In response, a University of Edinburgh spokesperson has said: “The University’s 2020 review of Teaching Fellow contracts agreed that new Teaching Fellows must be offered and start work on a part-time or fractional contract, with pay spread evenly over the course of the year.”

“Should the contract be short term, and non-recurring in nature, to backfill an absent employee, or to fulfil a specific project, as in this case, pay would be spread over the duration of the contract.

“Some MSc Linguistics programmes overshot their target student numbers this year. Although manageable in Semester One, additional Teaching Fellows are required from January to August to support teaching and dissertation supervision in Semester Two.”

On top of casualisation, the UCU have also been outspoken about the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) and pay. The UCU have asked the UK Higher Education Institution (HEI) to “stop the cuts to USS and work with them to avoid future changes to benefits and increases in member contributions,” and to “call on USS to issue a new evidence-based valuation of the scheme.” 

The ballot regarding taking strike action closed at noon on 4 November. In total, 76% of members across all branches of UCU cast their votes, with 88% voting in favour of action short of strike.

In the UCU Edinburgh branch, there was a 59.2% turnout, with 81.2% voting for strike action, and 92.9% voting for action short of a strike (ASOS). 

Subsequent to the UCU meeting held 12 November, the UCU have announced their strike dates to be from Wednesday 1 December to Friday 3 December, with a total of 58 university branches, including the University of Edinburgh, to be participating in the strike action.

Image courtesy of Magnus Hagdorn