The shift from fixed-term to permanent contracts can clearly be seen by the experience of Bristol University.
Just over two years ago around 99% of its 1,100 research staff were on short-term deals. Now this figure is around 48%, according to the personnel manager for policy development Christian Carter. Fixed-term contracts have traditionally been used in academia where research is being carried out, normally to a finite, fixed budget and on a fixed timescale.
"Typically, it will be a three-year contract, led by a principal investigator, who will normally be a permanent senior academic, and a team of researchers on fixed-term contracts," Carter explains.
At termination, these researchers then often move on to another project.
Most universities, Bristol included, have been moving towards fixed-term contracts with comparable benefits for staff for some time. "[Employees] get the same material benefits, the same sick pay entitlement, the same entitlement to join the pension scheme, sports clubs and so on. All that is different is that their contract has a defined end date and, at some point, they will be made redundant. But they knew that when they started," he says.
The university has drawn up a fixed-term contracts procedure to ensure that these are now made or renewed in line with carefully defined criteria. "We have wanted to move to a culture where fixed-term contracts are the exception rather than the rule," adds Carter.