Home » Programmes and Fellowships » Academic Careers Observatory » The United Kingdom

The United Kingdom

Impact of Covid-19 on the British Academic Job Market in the Social Sciences and Humanities

Higher Education sector in the UK has been deeply affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. Many universities responded with hiring freezes, putting particularly early-career positions at risk.

Responses adopted by the Government

The Government’s support package for the Higher Education sector includes inter alia:

  • Joint DfE/BEIS Ministerial Taskforce on university research sustainability to be jointly led by Science Minister and Universities Minister. It will advise on the risks associated with the impacts of Covid-19 on university research, and how universities and the Government can work together to ensure the health of university-led research in both the short and long term across the UK
  • £100m of Quality-related Research funding
  • An estimated £2.6bn of tuition fee payments
  • Higher Education providers may be eligible to apply for support packages, including business loan support schemes, e.g. Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Schemes (CLBILS), Covid-19 Corporate Financing Facility (CCFF).

As part of the HM Treasury package of support set up to help pay people’s wages and keep people in employment, including those staff on casual, hourly paid or fixed-term contracts),[1] the Government has put forward  the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS). Supplementary guidance for higher education providers on the use of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) for research work is available at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-job-retention-scheme-guidance-for-research-organisations/coronavirus-job-retention-scheme-supplementary-guidance-for-research-organisations

[1] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-financial-support-for-education-early-years-and-childrens-social-care/coronavirus-covid-19-financial-support-for-education-early-years-and-childrens-social-care#higher-education

Responses adopted by the Universities

A number of universities have implemented job retention schemes (furlough):

See also a crowdsourced document collecting university policies on furlough: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1Ztrmyjk9uhtAHIigIaDJ4WV9VBmQNKnhA01ZrTSHDuM/edit (Section 2)


[1] https://www.staffnet.manchester.ac.uk/coronavirus/news/display/?id=24357; https://www.staffnet.manchester.ac.uk/cjrs/faqs/ 

[2] https://www.staffnet.manchester.ac.uk/cjrs/faqs/#f2

Hiring freezes

  • Recruitment freeze and Redeployment Protocol have been introduced by the University of Oxford as of 21 April for an initial period of 12 months, to be kept under review.[1]

  • Kings College London 
    'We have paused recruitment and will only be recruiting for essential roles in exceptional circumstances such as for roles directly related to the student experience and/or regulatory or compliance related.'[2]

  • University of Sussex
    states on its website that recruitment is currently being reviewed, and that University funded posts will only be advertised via redeployment and internally in the first instance.  In exceptional circumstances, some posts may be authorised to be advertised externally if found to be business critical, however authorisation must be sought first. All externally/grant funded posts will continue to be advertised as deemed appropriate for the vacancy. Only roles that have been given authorisation can proceed with interviews. [3] 

  • University of Sheffield
    all pending staff recruitment activity has been reviewed to ensure that only 'essential recruitment activity' proceeds. A new approvals process through which any proposed staff recruitment will be considered has been introduced.[4]

  • University of Edinburgh 
    'If you are in the process of recruiting but have not yet reached offer stage, i.e. have already advertised the post and are actively long/short listing etc., you are encouraged to seriously consider the implications and practicalities of proceeding with an appointment at this time. Options may be to:
  1. Pause – communicating with candidates to let them know when the process will restart
  2. Cancel – if there is the potential that resource needs might be changed as a consequence of the pandemic.
  3. Complete appointment – if the appointment is business critical and you have confirmed that with your budget holder.

   If you have a vacancy but have not yet advertised the post, it is likely that the pool of applicants will be significantly    depleted, particularly if applicants would need to relocate to Edinburgh. You should therefore seriously consider     delaying what might not prove to be a productive exercise. We should however progress business critical       appointments that will support recovery post Covid-19'. [5] 

[1] https://hr.admin.ox.ac.uk/recruitment-protocol#collapse1959316

[2] https://www.kcl.ac.uk/coronavirus/staff/staff

[3] https://www.sussex.ac.uk/staff/coronavirus/hr-guidance

[4] https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/coronavirus/faqs/staff

[5] https://www.ed.ac.uk/news/covid-19/staff

Positive policies (measures to protect causal and vulnerable academic staff)

  • University of Edinburgh:
    statement on the website that all staff will continue to receive their salary and any contractual allowances as normal, and that specific arrangements will be put in place for hourly paid staff, i.e. staff on guaranteed minimum hours contracts.[1]

  • University of Sheffield:
    'At the beginning of April the University made a commitment to support casual workers who have worked regularly for the University, but are no longer offered work, through the Government's Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme until the end of the spring semester 13 June. Unless otherwise agreed, casual staff who have been on furlough leave up until 13 June, will no longer be classed as furloughed from this date and can therefore undertake work for the University as and when it is offered without giving prior notification to HR.'
    It also states as follows: 'We are aware of the contracts due to expire in the next few months and will be working with the relevant departments as a matter of urgency to review these roles and determine whether an extension should be applied. Decisions will be made on a case-by-case basis.' [2]

  • University of Cardiff - UCU Cardiff Met,Twitter, 28/3
    Cardiff Met have provided assurances, that they will be looking after HPL, fixed-term and permanent staff over the coming months

  • University of Exeter:
    i.a. ‘Postgraduate Teaching Assistants will continue to be paid if their work is cancelled or rescheduled, and should claim for their hours in the usual way’[3]

  • University of Nottingham:
    'If casual workers cannot deliver their work during a period of closure, they will be paid for the work that was agreed and scheduled and then, by agreement, will catch up on delivery of work at a later stage. Where this later proves not to be possible, for example because the work is no longer required, the earlier payment will not be reclaimed by the University.'[4]

  • Warwick Anti-Casualisation Open Letter to Management, no date;

  • Update from Stirling UCU - 31 March
    Citing University announcement: the University is 'committed to paying all those on casual contracts for work that had been offered and scheduled but subsequently cancelled. It is also seeking further guidance from funding bodies with regard to the possibility of funding extensions in the circumstances.'

  • KCL update to staff - 24 March:
    ‘If you are a casual or temporary worker, you will be paid for the work you have been contracted to do whether it is possible for you to do that work or not.'[5]

  • Portsmouth UCU twitter - 24 March 
    'the University of Portsmouth has suspended the redundancy consultation [relating to its plans to cut 60% of English Lit Lecturers] in the context of the #COVIDー19 national crisis.'

  • Update from Exeter UCU - 27 March
    With respect to postdocs, HR are, in cooperation with Colleges/services, mapping which funding bodies are to investigate possible extensions, there is no clear policy line as yet from the university.

  • KCL email to staff - 24 March
    'If you are employed on a fixed term contract which is due to expire and would have been renewed in normal circumstances, we will honour that renewal and you will continue receiving your salary. We will work with everyone whose contracts expires during this challenging period to provide help and support.'[6]

In addition, some universities have cancelled or deferred indefinitely strike pay deductions for the last 14 days of strikes (see https://docs.google.com/document/d/1Ih-hfIo51muzDGF6TINyQpIDmCYezvBNHYh84gtyst8/edit section 6). 


[1] https://www.ed.ac.uk/news/covid-19/staff

[2] https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/coronavirus/faqs/staff

[3] http://www.exeter.ac.uk/coronavirus/staff/pay/

[4] https://www.nottingham.ac.uk/coronavirus/staff/hr-policies-pay-and-visas.aspx

[5] Examples have been retrieved from the crowdsourced document Immediate proposals to universities in response to the Covid-19 crisis (accessed 21.06.2020)

[6] Examples have been retrieved from crowdsourced document Positive Policies https://docs.google.com/document/d/1Ztrmyjk9uhtAHIigIaDJ4WV9VBmQNKnhA01ZrTSHDuM/edit (accessed 21.06.2020)

Application for Postdoctoral fellowships


[1] https://esrc.ukri.org/funding/funding-opportunities/postdoctoral-fellowships/.
See also https://info.lse.ac.uk/current-students/phd-academy/esrc-doctoral-training-partnership/postdoctoral-fellowships 


Other useful resources

Page last updated on 04 August 2020