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What do higher education staff do?

The Staff record gives us information about who works in higher education and their terms of employment. It also gives us some information about what staff do. As we review the Staff record, we want to make sure that our information about what staff do keeps up with the changing nature of work in higher education. 

The ‘Academic employment function’ (ACEMPFUN) variable is one of our main sources of information about what staff do. In its current form, ACEMPFUN allows for five possible employment functions:  

  1. An academic contract that is teaching only.  
  2. An academic contract that is research only.  
  3. An academic contract that is both research and teaching.  
  4. An academic contract that is neither teaching nor research. 
  5. A non-academic contract. 

While this covers a range of staff activities, there are a few potential issues. It is not clear that the options available cover the range of activities performed by academic staff. Also, the sharp distinction drawn between the employment activities of academic and non-academic staff may not always work in practice. 

Other academic employment functions 

Teaching and research are the traditional backbone of academic work, as indicated by the employment functions in the ACEMPFUN variable. However, academic staff don’t only teach and do research. While teaching and research have for a long time – if not forever – required academic staff to fulfill a range of administrative and pastoral duties, the other responsibilities of academic staff have grown increasingly prominent in recent years. 

Academic staff don’t only teach and do research

Activities other than teaching and research are increasingly recognised as formal elements of employment. These activities may be part of contracts, or they may be part of career pathways for academic staff. In some higher education (HE) providers, academic staff are assigned to career pathways not only in teaching and research (or both), but also, for example, knowledge exchange, public engagement, or impact. 

While we have anecdotal evidence to suggest that such alternative academic career paths are increasingly common, we can’t be certain based on the current ACEMPFUN variable. Expanding the list of employment functions could give us more rounded information about what academic staff do. 

The boundaries between academic and non-academic work 

Many staff who are employed on non-academic contracts also support teaching and research activities. 

Some non-academic staff are particularly closely involved in teaching and research. Technicians, for example, often instruct students in the use of specialised equipment or techniques. They can contribute to research in a range of ways, from preparing resources and operating equipment to carrying out experiments and analysing data. Similarly, library and archive staff may carry out their own research as well as helping students develop research skills. 

We want to consider how to include the range of activities undertaken by non-academic staff in the Staff record. Details about the employment functions of non-academic staff beyond ‘not an academic contract’ will help us to understand non-academic staff contributions at HE providers. 

Join the debate

In the early stages of the major review of the Staff record, we identified the need to review staff activities and employment functions. We cover this topic, as well as other high level themes underpinning the Staff record, in the evidence gathering consultation which we launched in August 2023. Your responses to the consultation, which closes on Friday 13 October 2023, will help us ensure that the Staff record meets the needs of our users across the HE sector.  

Lucy Van Essen Fishman

Lucy Van Essen-Fishman

Lead Policy & Research Analyst