Our petition to HEFCE

HEFCE: make the next REF an incentive for long-term employment, not short-term exploitation

Please sign Hortensii’s petition to HEFCE at http://www.thepetitionsite.com/894/968/678/make-the-next-ref-an-incentive-for-long-term-employment-not-short-term-exploitation/

More and more university lecturers and researchers are now employed on short-term contracts that force them to spend huge amounts of time looking for their next job and to move constantly from one place to another. The work of these long-suffering people has been instrumental in influencing the outcomes of REF 2014, the research ranking exercise that determines a substantial percentage of government research funding for the next five years. At this moment universities and departments all over the UK are celebrating the REF results, often without sparing a thought for the many temporary academics whose hard work made the good REF results possible but who have already lost their jobs at the institutions that now stand to reap rewards.

Short-term hires to boost REF results are a clever way of gaming the system, and there is no rule against them; as things stand now, a university would be foolish not to use them. But such hires not only harm the people who are thus exploited, but also distort the REF results, for the REF is supposed to give an indication of which departments are worth funding for five years, not which were worth funding for a few months in autumn 2013.

The REF could be a much more positive force in UK academia and could counter the growing insecurity of academic employment if it weighted staff according to the nature of their contracts. On such a system the same person would count more if on a long-term than if on a short-term contract, giving universities an incentive to make longer-term hires. This would also make the REF results a better reflection of reality. For example, since a lecturer on a permanent contract is likely to be at the institution concerned for the full five years of the funding period, whereas one on a one-year contract will be there for only 1/5 of that time, the former individual ought to count 5 times as much as the latter one. And therefore a department that submits 10 people on permanent contracts should have a greater return, for the same research quality, than one submitting 2 people on permanent contracts and 8 on contracts shorter than 5 years. The same principle should be applied to every type of contract: someone hired for 6 months should count for only 1/10 of a person on a contract of 5 years or longer, and someone hired for 3 years should count for 3/5 of a long-term staff member. This weighting would give universities an incentive to use the longest contracts they can, even if they cannot afford permanent ones.

We call upon HEFCE to implement a weighting of this nature in future REF exercises, in order to improve the employment conditions of UK academics and make the REF more accurately reflect the real, long-term situation in universities across the country.

For further information on the REF, see http://www.ref.ac.uk/

For further information on the use of short-term contracts in UK academia, see e.g. http://www.theguardian.com/education/2013/feb/04/academic-casual-contracts-higher-education, http://www.ucu.org.uk/stampout