Concern over the use of short-term contracts for lecturers at UCC and CIT

These kinds of conditions severely devalue teaching and shortchanges our students, many of whom have had to make big sacrifices to be able to afford to come here.
Concern over the use of short-term contracts for lecturers at UCC and CIT

UCC has refused  to reveal how many lecturers are on short-term contracts. Picture: Gavin Browne

UNIVERSITY College Cork and other institutes have been accused of using short-term contracts to ensure staff are paid only for the hours they work at the college.

The use of short or fixed term contracts can see staff members paid for several hours a week, placed on contracts that are less than a year long and receive no holiday, sick or preparatory pay.

Such contracts for lecturers are making it impossible to get mortgages, plan ahead and sometimes even make the minimum wage, according to some in the field.

The Echo asked both CIT and UCC to disclose how many lecturers are on such contracts in their institutions.

CIT revealed that 100 lecturers are on such contracts. UCC however, said the record requested is not held in a “format that can be readily accessed” and denied the FOI request as a result.

Calls have been made for the university to publish its figures with some claiming it is abusing the use of fixed-term contracts.

CIT said that 100 of its lecturers are on short-term contracts. Pic: Janice O'Connell
CIT said that 100 of its lecturers are on short-term contracts. Pic: Janice O'Connell

The Cush Report on fixed-term and part-time lecturing in third level education in Ireland was published in 2016 and ensured that the qualification period for awarding a lecturer a contract of indefinite duration (CID) was reduced to two years of continuous employment with the same employer.

However, Mark Cullinane, a postdoctoral researcher in the School of Applied Social Studies at UCC, said there are major issues at the university and others across Ireland with lecturers being left on these unstable contracts for years, even decades.

Mark Cullinane, a postdoctoral researcher in the School of Applied Social Studies, UCC
Mark Cullinane, a postdoctoral researcher in the School of Applied Social Studies, UCC

“Even without the official figures, we know that a great deal of teaching in UCC, like other Irish third level institutions, is undertaken by those on casual and insecure contracts, including hourly paid work,” he said.

“The university needs to not only fully disclose the prevalence of casualised work in UCC but to justify it because there are serious harms involved for those who work under such conditions and for our students too.

“Casualised staff are delivering teaching without job security beyond the college term, and sometimes even without contracts at all, and are being paid at rates that often don’t take into account the significant amounts of preparation needed for course design and class planning or for ongoing student contact.

“These kinds of conditions severely devalue teaching and shortchanges our students, many of whom have had to make big sacrifices to be able to afford to come here.

“They may be surprised to learn that many of their teachers subsist below the poverty line and are claiming unemployment benefits to supplement teaching income, and sometimes working in multiple third level colleges to eke out a living.

“Casualisation and the massive inequalities in pay and conditions for those involved in third level teaching associated with it undermines the university’s claim to excellence in teaching, damages solidarity between grades of staff, and erodes higher education as a public good, and it needs to be strenuously resisted.”

Dr Tom O’Connor, a lecturer in CIT who has worked with the Teachers’ Union of Ireland in recent years, said fixed-term contracts at CIT often end up with lecturers being offered contracts of indefinite duration (CID).

He believes that is often not the case at UCC.

“I would say CIT are not getting away with much in terms of abusing the legislation to be honest.

“Some lecturing staff in UCC are on fixed-term contracts, which sees people stuck on short term contracts for decades. These people are paid by the hour for the hours they lecture and that can, in many cases, be very few hours altogether.

“In CIT, if you’re on a fixed-term contract, you have all the entitlements of a lecturer on a full contract and if the work is there at the end of your contract, you get a contracts of indefinite duration.”

Dr O’Connor called on UCC to publish its figures on the issue.

Many non-permanent college staff are on “extremely flimsy contracts” for only a couple of hours a week or a few months a year. Pic: iStock
Many non-permanent college staff are on “extremely flimsy contracts” for only a couple of hours a week or a few months a year. Pic: iStock

A statement from the TUI on the issue said “it is completely unacceptable that there be any drift towards casualisation of the lecturing profession.

“It is TUI’s view that wherever possible, lecturers should be appointed on initial appointment to permanent contracts,” a spokesperson added. “We object to lecturers being placed on hourly-paid contracts except in the most exceptional of circumstances.”

The Irish Federation of University Teachers (IFUT) said the issue of part-time, temporary and otherwise precarious academic staff has been our number one priority in recent years.

Dr Edward Lahiff, chair of the IFUT branch in UCC said many non-permanent staff are on “extremely flimsy contracts” for only a couple of hours a week or a few months a year.

“I can give an example of a member who has been on contract for 72 hours a year for over 10 years now,” he revealed.

“While many younger or newly-qualified lecturers take on contract positions to begin with, it is in everybody’s interest that they should be able to aspire to full-time permanent status within a reasonable length of time, and build a career in their chosen field.

“Temporary or part-time contracts typically mean that academics cannot get access to research grants, take on PhD students, travel to conferences or do many of the other things that are central to academic life; nor can they plan their future, get a mortgage and more.

“As a result, their professional and personal lives are effectively on hold and this can go on for years.

“I think that students, their parents and the general public would be shocked to know just how poorly paid and precariously employed are many of the lecturers in our leading universities. Neither government nor the universities themselves are keen to acknowledge this, or seem willing to do much about it.”

A spokesperson for UCC said the university is “committed to providing stable, continuous employment to all of its staff.”

“Similar to all other universities the need arises from time to time to employ people on a short term basis to meet a specific need and to provide essential cover,” they said. “There are well established processes and procedures for the appointment of academic staff and UCC has continued to increase and invest in our academic staff.

“The vast majority of all academic staff are on permanent contracts or specific purpose contracts to ensure all business needs are met.

“UCC is proactively involved with IFUT to minimise the use of hourly occasional contracts and to give full regard for the Cush Report which deals with the matter of employment status in the Higher Education sector.”

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