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Ask the panel

Worried about your employment, maternity, pension rights? Send your questions to The Times Higher advice panel.

I work at a prestigious university but my salary is paid through a charitably funded research organisation and not through the university. As a result, I am unable to use facilities such as the careers service, training, sports facilities and the nursery. Despite regularly teaching students, I am not even eligible for an induction day. Am I a member of this university or not?

* Our panellist from the Association of University Teachers says: "It is difficult from the information provided to establish what exactly your employment position is.

"If you are paid through the university's payroll, then you are an employee of the university - irrespective of where the university gets the money to pay for your post. Most researchers in universities are employed by the universities even though salary cost is recouped through individual research grants. If that is the case, you are entitled to the same terms and conditions as other members of staff. If that is not the case - as is implied - this may contravene legislation and should be taken up with the university by your trade union.

"If, on the other hand, your salary is directly paid by the research organisation, then that organisation is your employer and the university will not have the same legal obligations to you. Equally, you have no obligations to the university unless your employer (the research organisation) has agreed to this. But the research organisation, as your employer, does have a legal responsibility towards you and it would be worth taking up your issues with them. It may be that they could negotiate with the university to give you use of their facilities. But this is a slightly murky area, and developing law on agency workers provides that in some cases an implied contract of employment can arise over time between agency worker and end user."

She adds: "A third possibility is that you are an employee of both the university (in relation to your teaching activity) and the research organisation (in relation to your research activity). In that case you will have employment rights with both."

She advises talking to a trade union representative.

* Our resident academic says: "Where your salary comes from is probably crucial in defining your relationship with the university. For many institutions, the salary roll is used to construct the employee list and this is then equated to university membership. Since your salary doesn't go through the university books, you would probably be described as something like an "associate" member of the university.

Universities that have a lot of semi-independent units, such as research institutes or colleges, may have hundreds of people in your position. Although strictly you may be ineligible for the university facilities you list, you may find that some are available under certain circumstances."

* Our panellist from Research Councils UK has this to say. "From the information provided it is not possible to establish your employment position and who your employer is. But research councils do expect universities to comply with the 1996 Concordat for the Career Management of Contract Research Staff and subsequent amendments. This says that research staff should be appointed on terms no less favourable than those of comparable posts in the research organisation (in this case the university)."

* Our panellist from the Universities and Colleges Employers' Association says: "From the situation described, you are not a staff member of the university and therefore would not be entitled to use staff facilities. Although you say you do regular teaching, this will be on behalf of the research organisation that employs you and it will be reimbursed for your time. There may be some flexibility, particularly where the university may also benefit. For example, it may agree to you attending internally provided training necessary for you to carry out the teaching you do for the university."

This advice panel includes the Association of University Teachers, Natfhe, the Universities and Colleges Employers' Association, Research Councils UK, the Equality Challenge Unit and Rachel Flecker, an academic who sits on Bristol University's contract research working party.

Send questions to advicepanel@thes.co.uk

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