Research elite offer best maternity leave
Generous packages at research intensives used to retain staff, study suggests. Rachael Pells reports
The UK’S research-intensive universities offer more generous maternity leave packages than their teachingoriented contemporaries, according to a study that highlights evidence of a clear divide in academics’ parental rights.
In a paper due to be published at the end of this month, Vera Troeger, professor of quantitative political economy at the University of Warwick, and Mariaelisa Epifanio, lecturer in politics at the University of Liverpool, suggest that researchfocused institutions such as those in the Russell Group often allow female employees who are expecting children more time off at full salary as part of a strategic move to retain their best workers.
The researchers name the univer- sities of Manchester, Oxford and Southampton as being among the most generous employers, each offering soon-to-be mothers 26 weeks’ leave at full salary.
At the other end of the scale sit smaller or specialist institutions, which offer no weeks off at full salary. These include, according to the study, Leeds Beckett University and the University of Bolton.
Dame Athene Donald, master of Churchill College, Cambridge, and the university’s former gender equality champion, said that she was “not surprised” by the findings, since research intensives have “so much invested in each individual”.
“If a PI [principal investigator] leaves with a research group in place, it can have extremely negative consequences both for the students or postdocs involved and in the institution’s relationships with funders,” Dame Athene said.
Much of the variation in benefits can be attributed to terms of employment, which “vary massively between universities”, she added. “It isn’t just that the teaching-focused universities use fixed-term (and often very short-term) contracts but I believe they also sometimes offer essentially zero-hours contracts.
“However, it is unrealistic to expect a rapid transformation with the financial pressures [universities] across the board are feeling, however desirable this is on all fronts.”
Bolton is highlighted as one of 15 institutions to offer zero weeks with full salary replacement beyond the statutory government maternity benefit – about £140 per week – an issue that a spokeswoman attributed to a “lack of affordability”.
“The University of Bolton...recognises the importance of familyfriendly practices in the recruitment and retention of high-calibre colleagues,” the spokeswoman said. “We do offer our staff maternity pay above the statutory minimum, [however] we are a relatively small [provider] and do not have the financial resources that many of the larger [universities] have.”
According to the study, research intensives with a small student-tostaff ratio were found to be five times as generous in their maternity provisions as teaching-orientated providers with a larger number of