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18 January 2023 Sophie Crouchman, Strategic Projects and Research Manager
A January treat for all the HR data geeks out there came in the form of HESA’s first release of 2021/22 staff statistics, which came a couple of weeks earlier than usual and took me by surprise! Luckily for me, I had a whole meeting-free morning in which to delve into the figures and work out what’s changed since the 2020/21 stats were published in February 2022. The initial 21/22 release concerns only academic staff data, whilst we look forward to seeing the full statistical release in late February ’23. (And if you want to revisit last year’s analysis, you can find it here and here.)
A reminder that between 2019/20 and 2020/21, the number of academic staff in the sector saw a very small increase of less than 1%, however the latest stats show us that the academic staffing body grew by 4% in 2021/22 and now stands at just shy of 234,000. So the nervousness about growth during the first part of the pandemic clearly has not lasted into 21/22. Having said that, last year I noted the very significant increase in student numbers in 2020/21 (8% UG and 16% PGT) and although the HESA stats on students have not yet been published for 2021/22, we can expect another bumper year based on what we know about recruitment in summer 2022. It’s unlikely that the increase in academic staff this year has kept pace with student number increases, and with the number of undergraduates predicted to grow until the end of the decade, a question remains about whether we will see ca ommensurate increase in staffing levels. Student number growth is clearly having an impact on the make-up of the academic staff profile, as we can see that 35% of academic staff are now employed on teaching-only contracts – the highest proportion ever recorded in the staff return (up from 32% last year, and rising 6% overall since 2017/18). That means that over a third of our academic workforce are now no longer employed on “traditional” academic contracts which encompass both research and teaching.
Reviewing the 2020/21 stats last year, I wrote “unfortunately the data on diversity within the academic community are still pretty dismal” and I don’t have any better news this year. The number of academics identifying as Black, Asian, Mixed or Other has risen by 1% in a year which is the same glacial pace as in previous years, despite all of the work going on in HEIs to progress race equity. One interesting statistic which is easily missed is that the proportion of academic staff declaring a disability has risen to 6% from 5%. This is still very low when considering that it is estimated that 18% of working-age people in Britain are defined as disabled by the Equality Act 2010 (Source: Employers' Forum on Disability), but might it be the start of a trend of increasing disability disclosure for academic staff ? Time will tell.
The perennial discussion of fixed term and zero hours contracts is informed by the data that HESA collect. The 2021/22 data shows that 33% of academic staff are employed on fixed term contracts, a 1% increase since last year but still representing a downward trend since 2014/15 (when it was 35%). Although whether a 2% decrease in 7 years is actually a trend at all could be debated – again, the pace of change is slow. Just less than 2% of academic staff (~4400 people) were employed on zero hours contracts in 2021/22 – a rise from the previous reporting period. This, against a backdrop of industrial relations where the use of precarious contracts remain an integral part of the conversation, and with many HEIs stating they are actively working to reduce the use of such contracts.
Last year I challenged you to identify ways in which you can better use the HESA staff data for your own benefit. If you’ve not managed to do this yet, there’s still time. And if you want some inspiration, I’ll soon be advertising an hour long “Time to Talk” session focussed on the HESA staff record – ideal if you are new to the sector, you work on the fringes of the return or you’d just like to know more about how you can use the data it to your advantage. Get in touch if you want to know more!
UHR Strategic Projects & Research Manager
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