Media Release

Some British universities are denying female academics permanent contracts to avoid paying them generous maternity packages

Universities that focus more on teaching than research are deliberately “screening” out women who apply for permanent jobs by giving them short-term contracts that do not entitle employees to full maternity pay, according to Professor Vera Troeger of Warwick University.

Professor Troeger was speaking at the Social Market Foundation think-tank, where she has published a paper based on an analysis of the careers of 10,000 female academics.

The unfair treatment of female academics is contributing to a persistent gender imbalance in academia, she suggested.

While women hold almost half of all junior lecturing posts, less than a fifth of all professors are female. Higher education also has wide gaps in pay by gender — less than one in three academics in the highest salary band (£56,467 and above) are female.

Professor Troeger’s research showed that female academics at universities that offer the best maternity and childcare packages are likely to be more productive — publishing more research of higher quality — than those at institutions that offer less support.

But Professor Troeger found that some colleges, where the focus is more on teaching than research, are inclined to try to initially avoid giving women jobs where they would qualify for maternity pay packages.

“If these universities have more generous maternity benefits, they also have a greater incentive to screen potential recipients by initially employing more women on fixed term contracts.

“Less research-intensive universities employ more women on fixed-term contracts if they offer more generous maternity benefits. In some institutions there is unfair treatment.”

University HR departments routinely deny that any “screening” is taking place “but our data shows that this is happening,” Professor Troeger said.

The professor declined to name universities that use short-term contracts to screen women out of maternity packages, because the analysis points to general trends rather than individual institutions.

Her research also highlighted the extreme disparity in maternity leave packages given by different universities. Some, including Oxford and Manchester, pay new mothers 26 weeks of their full salary during maternity leave, then the statutory minimum. Others, including Leeds Metropolitan, offer no additional maternity pay.

James Kirkup, Director of the SMF, said:

“Not only is screening women out of jobs to avoid paying them maternity packages discriminatory and wrong, it is also self-defeating. This research shows that where employers support female staff with children, those staff do more and better work.

“In the era of #MeToo, a growing public focus on variations in pay between men and women, and political debate about the way universities are managed, those that treat their female staff in this way are taking a very unwise risk.”


Professor Troeger, a political economist, published her work with the Centre for Advantage in the Global Economy, which is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and based at Warwick University. The views and findings in the paper are not those of the ESRC.



Notes to editors:

The briefing paper was presented at a Social Market Foundation event in Westminster on Tuesday 17 April 2018.

The paper can be accessed online here:

Interviews/media enquiries:
Please contact Laura Webb, SMF Head of External Affairs and Partnerships on 07502048969 / 020 7222 7060 /


About Vera Troeger

Vera Troeger is Professor of Quantitative Political Science at the Economics Department and the Department for Politics and International Studies at the University of Warwick. She joined CAGE (Centre for Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy) in August 2011. Vera is the editor-in-chief of the journal Political Science Research and Methods, the official journal of the European Political Science Association, published by Cambridge University Press. She is also an associate editor of Political Analysis. Vera also serves on the editorial boards of the European Journal of Political Research, and the Journal of European Public Policy. She is a council member of the newly founded European Political Science Association and the Midwest Political Science Association.


About The Centre for Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE)

Established in January 2010, CAGE is a research centre in the Department of Economics at the University of Warwick. Funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), CAGE is carrying out a 10 year programme of innovative research. The centre’s research programme is focused on how countries succeed in achieving key economic objectives such as improving living standards, raising productivity, and maintaining international competitiveness, which are central to the economic wellbeing of their citizens. Its research analyses the reasons for economic outcomes both in developed economies like the UK and emerging economies such as China and India. CAGE aims to develop a better understanding of how to promote institutions and policies which are conducive to successful economic performance and endeavour to draw lessons for policy makers from economic history as well as the contemporary world. Research at CAGE examines how and why different countries achieve economic success. CAGE defines ‘success’ in terms of well-being as well as productivity. The research uses economic analysis to address real-world policy issues. The centre is distinctive in providing a perspective that draws on economic history as well as economic theory and is applied to countries at various different stages of economic development.


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