EDINBURGH University has been highlighted as the biggest user of zero-hours contracts in a survey showing more than two-thirds of Scottish higher-education institutions have staff on casual working arrangements.
Research by the University and College Union (UCU), which represents lecturers, found universities were more likely than other workplaces to use the practice.
Of the universities that replied to a UK-wide Freedom of Information (FoI) request, Edinburgh was found to have 2,712 people on zero-hours contracts, of whom 2,382 were in teaching and research posts.
The figure was the highest in the UK, with the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland the next-highest placed Scottish institution, employing 635 staff on zero-hours contracts. Glasgow University employed a total of 477 staff using the contracts.
Zero-hours contracts allow employers to hire staff with no guarantee of work, meaning the employees only work when they are needed, often at short notice, and are paid only for the hours they work.
Last month, it was claimed up to a million UK workers could be on zero-hours contracts, four times the official estimate.
UCU Scotland president Dave Anderson said: “Our findings shine a light on the murky world of casualisation in higher education. As well as the uncertainty that comes with being on a zero-hours contract, many staff suffer exploitation through other temporary contracts. Their widespread use is the unacceptable underbelly of universities.”
Mr Anderson said the contracts led to great uncertainty for staff. “Without a guaranteed income, workers are unable to make financial or employment plans on a year-to-year, or even month-to-month basis.”
The UCU said the use of casual contracts remained “haphazard”, making it difficult to gauge how widespread the practice was.
Of the universities reporting the use of zero-hours contracts, 44 per cent had more than 100 staff employed that way. Of the institutions that responded to the FoI request, just 19 per cent said all their staff on zero-hours contracts currently had work.
A spokesman for Edinburgh University said most of the staff on its “hours to be notified” contracts were employed as tutors, demonstrators or in teaching support. Others were employed in work involving conferences, catering and events, as well as ibrary services.
He said: “Employees on these contracts are usually aware of their hours in advance of a semester or an academic year, and no more than 5 per cent of work in the university is paid in this way.
“These contracts provide valuable work experience and financial benefit to our students.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman added: “Employment policy is reserved to Westminster. However, the Scottish Government is actively considering whether issues around the use of zero-hour contracts can form a legitimate consideration for a public body as part of the public procurement process.
“Universities are autonomous institutions that set terms and conditions for their own staff.”
Glasgow student rents soar
Student rents in Glasgow have risen by almost 7 per cent over the past year, a report has revealed – with the average price for a private flat above that of those in Edinburgh.
University students pay about £352 a month to live in private accommodation in Glasgow. In Edinburgh, however, the average price has dropped by 3.3 per cent to £312, according to website easyroommate.co.uk.
UK-wide, rents are at the highest for five years, with towns up 8.5 per cent over the past 12 months to £357 – driven by higher demand from larger student numbers.
Rishi Patel, spokesman for easyroommate.co.uk, said: “Rents for student flatshares are at their highest level in five years, which is increasing the financial pressure on many students, who also have to deal with higher fees and more expensive day-to-day costs.”
In a survey of landlords, 27 per cent said they had increased rents over the past 12 months, while just 6 per cent said they had lowered rents.