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Why have universities transformed their staffing practices?

Researchers: Professor Alison Wolf, CBE | Dr Andrew Jenkins

Project overview

This project will investigate how and why universities have changed the way they allocate and prioritise resources in recent years.

In the past decades the UK higher education sector has grown enormously, in terms of both enrolments and the number of institutions, coupled with a shift in the costs to students of attending university; scrutiny of universities’ teaching practices and regulation. Yet we know surprisingly little about how they use resources, or about how sector growth has changed the way they operate internally. Universities play a pivotal role in determining the life chances of young people and the university workforce changes could have a negative impact on the quality of teaching and students’ learning, and further widen differences within the sector.

For example, large and growing proportions of academic staff are on teaching-only or research-only contracts and are part-time and/or fixed-term. Furthermore, Managerial and administrative staff numbers have also tended to grow more rapidly than academic staff numbers.

This project seeks to understand both why this has happened, and why there is large variation within the sector ‘ some universities have gone much further than others in changing their staffing patterns.

The researchers will use institutional-level Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) data to map trends across the sector over the last 15 years, identifying variability between institutions and the factors associated with these.  This will be supplemented by exploratory case studies with a sample of universities to build up a picture of variation within institutions and the sector more broadly, how this has changes over time, and inform interpretation of the HESA analysis.


  • Professor Alison Wolf, CBE
    King's College London
  • Dr Andrew Jenkins
    UCL Institute of Education

  • Cheryl Lloyd
    Programme Head, Education
    Nuffield Foundation
  • Director, Education
    Nuffield Foundation

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We aim to improve people’s lives by funding research that informs social policy, primarily in Education, Welfare and Justice. We also fund student programmes that give young people skills and confidence in science and research.

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