Select Committee on Science and Technology Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Supplementary memorandum submitted by Professor Colin Bryson, Department of Human Resource Management, Nottingham Trent University

  The version of the new model statute that I have seen (June 2001 version) appears to offer staff on fixed- term contracts much less protection from dismissal than staff on open-ended contracts in that the procedures are much less onerous. In short, the employer can avoid any obligation to renew or convert the contract, or to seriously address redeployment or mitigation of loss of employment issues by invoking a wide range of justifications which arguably could be used on almost every occasion. I also have some concerns on the coverage of the statute as research staff and some teaching staff might be excluded from being defined as being academic staff at all.

My own research evidence is that the non-renewal of fixed-term contracts in HE is most frequently either:

    —  a redundancy—because the need for that work has ceased,

    —  or more often an "unfair" dismissal—because due to poor management systems or even misguided thinking, the individual is dismissed and replaced by another new recruit undertaking a similar role either immediately or after a very short time period.

  Therefore I do not think it is appropriate to have a different category of dismissal only by reason of the employee being on a fixed-term contract. I am aware that the employers have argued that revisions to the existing statute are required because it is too difficult to dismiss staff on open- ended contracts or to make redundancies. Indeed this is the very reason that they advance for such wide scale use of fixed-term and other forms of temporary contracts in higher education. Scholarly research on management systems shows that there would appear to be alternative explanations for the spread of this type of employment such as: the nature of management systems in HE that lead to very localised and short-term HR thinking and policies; the culture of most academic departments; and lack of integrated management of funding flows in HE, particularly research funding.

  I note that the national document takes the form of an agreement on "guidance" rather than a national agreement. Some HE institutions already have policies in place which offer stronger provisions on the reduction of the use of temporary contracts such as Robert Gordons University and Nottingham Trent University.

  The document begins with rather stronger sentiments than any previous agreement on the regulation of employment in universities. I note that the document correctly acknowledges that employment legislation in relation to redundancy should apply on termination of a fixed-term contract, in contradiction of the new model statute. Most of the rhetoric and policy guidance in the document is well founded, sensible and appropriate to the context of HE. In particular the point that the reason for the initial use of a fixed-term contract should be examined with care.

  I am concerned about the breadth of the objective justifications in section 9. That is too liberal an interpretation. The problem of allowing such scope is that given the current poor quality of management systems and the resilience of cultures inimical to good employment practices, widespread use of fixed term contracts and serial abuse is likely to continue.

  It is pity that the guidance could not have gone further in the recommendation of improved management systems (such as those practised in the great majority of private and public sector organisations) which lessen the need for temporary contracts in the first place. The danger with these guidelines although they are a great improvement on previous attempts in HE to improve employment and HR practices in HE, is that in institutions that already have reasonable systems they will not make a great deal of difference and in those with the worst practices (sadly the majority) they are quite likely to be ignored.

  I would argue that institutions need further incentives involving both carrots and sticks to put their houses in order. This is a matter of some concern because I believe the present system is wasteful in terms of enhancing productivity and fostering talent.

4 October 2002

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