Higher Education: Casual Workers

Department for Education written question – answered on 10th July 2019.

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Photo of Seema Malhotra Seema Malhotra Labour/Co-operative, Feltham and Heston

To ask the Secretary of State for Education, with reference to the University and College Union report entitled, Counting the costs of casualisation in higher education, published June 2019, what assessment he has made of the (a) effect of job insecurity on mental and physical health and (b) level of financial stability of Cambridge teaching staff; and if he will make a statement.

Photo of Chris Skidmore Chris Skidmore Vice-Chair, Conservative Party, Minister of State (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Universities and Science) (Joint with the Department for Education)

Mental health is a priority for the government, which is why my right hon. Friend, the Prime Minister recently announced measures (17 June 2019) which overhaul the government’s approach to preventing mental illness. These measures included providing £1 million to the Office of Students for a competition to find innovative new ways to support mental health at universities and colleges.

The Department for Education is working closely with Universities UK on embedding the Step Change programme. This calls on higher education (HE) leaders to adopt mental health as a strategic priority and take a whole-institution approach to embed a culture of good mental health practice.

The University Mental Health Charter, which was announced in June 2018, is also expected to drive up standards in promoting mental health and wellbeing, positive working environments and excellent support for both students and staff.

As independent and autonomous institutions, HE providers are responsible for decisions regarding the contracts they offer to academic staff. Like all employers, HE providers, including Cambridge University have a duty of care to their staff. The department expects them to take this very seriously. We also expect universities to give due consideration to their obligations under the Equality Act (2010) and the way their employment practices affect different sections of their communities and staff at different stages of their careers.

I gave a speech on 7 May 2019 that focused on early career researcher contracts. I am keen that early career academics do not get lost from policy debates, particularly around key issues such as mental health and wellbeing. The Independent Review of the Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers, led by Professor Julia Buckingham, has recognised issues of wellbeing and the challenges that arise from the use of short and fixed-term contracts. Recommendations are currently under review and a revised concordat is expected in September 2019.

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