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Higher Education: Zero-hours Contracts

Question for Department for Education

UIN 114890, tabled on 31 January 2022

To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what recent assessment he has made on the potential impact of zero-hours contracts on academic freedom of teaching staff.

Answered on

8 February 2022

Higher education providers are independent and responsible for their own decisions about the terms and conditions of employment they offer. It is essential that they consider the impact of short term and casual contracts on staff, students and the overall sustainability of teaching and research in this country.

Recently published figures on the number of academic staff on zero hours contracts is 3,650 staff among a total academic workforce of 224,530, which equates to 1.6%.

The Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill, currently at report stage in the House of Commons, provides a route to redress where an individual may not have clear contractual protections in place in respect of freedom of speech and academic freedom. Rather than having to rely on contractual protections in an employment tribunal, an academic member of staff will now have access to the Office for Students complaints scheme, as well as the right to bring a claim in the courts via the new statutory tort.

The bill is clear that the job security of staff should not be undermined by the expression of lawful speech, including where they may question and test received wisdom, and put forward new ideas and controversial or unpopular opinions.