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Information for managers of fixed-term contract researchers

Many of our members are in positions where they are now responsible for managing early-career researchers, most of whom are on fixed-term contracts.  With the impact of changes in law such as the Fixed-Term Regulations 2002 and the Equality Act 2010, as well as Southampton’s commitment to implement the Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers, the landscape for fixed-term contract researchers has changed significantly in the past few years.

As it stands now, Vitae provides a useful guide for managers of fixed-term researchers working at institutions implementing the Concordat:

Vitae also provides an excellent guide for managers of researchers with respect to equality and diversity issues:

In addition, however, it is worth noting that UCU, while generally supportive of the Concordat, does not believe it goes far enough to protect researchers from insecure, under-valued employment.  As a consequence, UCU has issued additional guidance for managers of researchers who wish to support researchers in their struggles to build a strong career in a difficult environment.  You’ll find the relevant PDFs attached below.  These PDFs also contain useful summaries of the provisions within the Fixed-Term Regulations 2002, which require that fixed-term employees are treated the same as permanent employees:

Member’s advice sheet

Manager’s briefing on FTCs

UCU also encourages managers to remember that the tribunal result of Ball v Aberdeen has set a precedent under which short-term funding is not an automatic objective justification for employment on a fixed-term contract.

Similarly, we note the recent ruling against Lancaster University: “The Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1982, section 188, obliges employers to consult meaningfully with unions when more than 20 members of staff are expected to be made redundant in a 90-day period. The ruling against Lancaster reinforced the principle that “redundancies” in this context includes termination of fixed-term contracts, and strengthens the expectations on employers to do everything they can to mitigate against the redundancies” (quoted from which is another useful page for managers of researchers).

If you are a manager of fixed-term researchers at Southampton, and you have further questions about how best to support research staff, please do contact the UCU office for further guidance.

We also urge all managers to remind their research staff that, under the Fixed-Term Regulations 2002, any staff on successive fixed-term contracts for four years or more are to be considered permanent staff unless there is sufficient objective justification.  Fixed-term researchers may exercise this right by writing to their employer, who then has 21 days to respond that they are indeed permanent, or otherwise an objective justification must be cited for why they cannot be permanent.  Many researchers are not made aware of this regulation, and are not supported in exercising this right, so please do encourage your researchers to make use of this provision within the regulations.  Southampton UCU has a form letter available which researchers can use to inquire about their status in this respect.

As a final note, please find below the text of a motion passed at the Southampton UCU Annual General Meeting on Thursday 28 June 2012.  The motion was carried unanimously, with no abstentions.  As a consequence of this overwhelming support, we will continue to push for the improvement of working conditions for fixed-term contract staff at this University as one of our primary campaigns this year.  We welcome any and all input and feedback from members who wish to get involved in this campaign.


Southampton UCU believes that the University’s reliance on fixed-term contracts is detrimental both personally and professionally for our staff. We note that the insecurity created by FTCs has a disproportionate impact on those who have caring responsibilities. Southampton UCU believes that the University can build a more stable and sustainable environment for research and teaching by reducing the use of FTCs. Southampton UCU calls on the University to:

a) Develop an effective redeployment system which avoids FTC researcher redundancies by matching staff to vacancies and provides training to enable them to meet skill needs;

b) Develop ‘bridging’ mechanisms, similar to those used at other Universities, to fund FTC research staff between research grants (to allow them to contribute to publications and/or teaching, and apply for further research funding);

c) Increase provision of training for FTCs to enhance research and teaching skills for future roles;

d) Move toward the provision of open-ended contracts for academic and academic-related staff.

Proposed by: Dr Eric Silverman (President)
Seconded by: Professor Catherine Pope (Equalities Officer)


Eric Silverman

Southampton UCU President

One Comment

  1. […] For those who are interested, you can find the full text of the Regulations here.  DirectGov has an informative summary about the protections in place for fixed-term employees here.  Finally, we have prepared a page of useful information for managers of fixed-term staff (which is also useful for fixed-term employees themselves), which is available on this blog post. […]

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