University of Cambridge: renew the Contract Extension Scheme

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Casualised workers at the University of Cambridge face a grave situation. The Higher Education job market is rapidly shrinking, and staff on fixed-term and zero-hour contracts face unprecedented obstacles to finding work. Universities across the UK have suspended their main activities or are operating with minimal staff on site. Many Universities have implemented a hiring freeze until at least the end of 2020. Without intervention, staff whose contracts are coming to an end this summer are all but guaranteed unemployment.
 
Casualised teachers, researchers, and academic-related staff occupy an increasing proportion of essential roles at the University of Cambridge and its colleges. The University employed 2573 workers through its Temporary Employment Service from 2015-2018. The Cambridge branch of UCU estimates that at least 45% of college supervision teaching is provided by casualised staff. These same workers, who perform vital tasks for the University, are the first to lose their jobs in times of crisis. Now is the time for Cambridge to show how much it values these essential workers. 

There is understandable concern about the financial impact of the pandemic on UK Universities. Thankfully, the University of Cambridge is in a unique position to protect its most vulnerable staff and support them through this crisis. The University has financial reserves worth more than £5 billion, 20 times higher than the sector average of £254.1 million. According to the University’s own financial statements, these reserves have grown by nearly £800 million since 2016, and outstrip their nearest comparator institution, Oxford University, by just under a billion pounds. 
 
Staff wages and salaries account for just 31% of expenditure (sector average: 37%) and this has been falling steadily over the last decade from 35% as reported in 2011. The University employs 347 staff members on salaries above £100,000 (compared to a sector average of 42). The combined cost of their salaries comes to approximately £43 million, or 6% of total wages and salary costs. The Vice-Chancellor last year earned a total salary of £475,000, twelve times higher than the median pay of his staff, making him the fourth highest earning Vice-Chancellor in the country.
 
The University of Cambridge is a wealthy institution, well-placed to weather the storm and to support those who face unemployment in the coming months.
 
In April 2020 the Vice-Chancellor wrote to University staff to announce a Contracts Extension Scheme, guaranteeing a continuation of employment until 31 July 2020 for any staff whose contract was due to end between 16 March and 31 July. The same announcement noted that the Scheme would be reviewed in June to see whether it should be extended. Since April, it has become clear that the effects of the pandemic, including its impact on the job market, are not short term; the UK will not return to normal after 31 July 2020.

Given we now know that the crisis facing temporary staff will not end as soon as we had hoped, we call on the University of Cambridge to continue its Contract Extension Scheme beyond 31 July 2020. The continuation of the Contract Extension Scheme should support all staff whose contracts end up to 31 December 2020. Without an extension all of these staff face almost certain unemployment, a situation which is entirely preventable.