Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Should lecturers be forced to ‘bin dive’ for food?

The Guardian reports on zero-hours contracts make for compelling and disturbing reading. These contracts are an abuse of working people leaving them with highly fluctuating and uncertain income and passing all risk of low income to the employee instead of it being borne by the employer.

However, the Guardian has missed one area where such contracts are becoming ever more common, higher education. UCU, the lecturers’ union, estimates that over 49.5% of higher education lecturers are on fixed term contracts. No figures are available as to which of these are hourly paid and which are fractional, but all of these lecturers face uncertainty of employment.

Admittedly, not all hourly paid contracts are quite as bad as the zero-hours contracts cited by the Guardian. Some universities actually include holiday pay. However sickness pay does not exist. If you are sick you are expected to make up the session. if you don’t then you don’t get paid. The problem of casualisation of HE staff is so great the UCU is running a campaign to ‘Stamp Out’ casual contracts in the sector.

Lecturers may know what their hours are from week to week, but they do not know what hours of teaching they will be offered from one academic year to the next or, in some cases, from one semester to the next, i.e. in January their teaching could disappear until the following October, or they could have no work until the following January. In addition there is generally no teaching, and therefore no pay, over the summer. Depending on the university in question, this can vary from two months without pay to five months without pay. Add to that no pay over the Christmas and Easter breaks in many cases and many part time lecturers are struggling to make ends meet. Times Higher Education found part time lecturers ‘bin diving’ for food.

Is this the way we should be treating highly qualified, highly skilled people?

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Is this the farm of the future?

A project in Salford is leading the way forward in growing organic food in what was a derelict warehouse and adjacent waste land. The Biospheric Project describes itself as ‘part farm, part laboratory and part research centre’ and is run by a PhD student.

Interestingly, the Biosphere project is part of Manchester International Festival; an arts festival. The biosphere includes a forest garden, vermiponics system (lots of worms to help the plants grow) , mushroom systems, hydroponic system, aquaponics systems (using fish waste as plant nutrients) and the roof garden containing intense polytunnel growing system within outdoor garden and 3 store indoor farm. - See more at:

All the systems are integrated as far as possible, for example the aquaponics provides nitrogen to fertilise the roof garden.  And the community has been involved in creating and running the project. A shop has been opened to sell their fresh produce to locals in what is a deprived area.

NB Aquaponics – system where fish waste is used to fertilise plants
Vermiponics - cross between hydroponics and aquaponics but with lots of worms