Universities and colleges are more than twice as likely to use zero-hour contracts than other employers, according to freedom of information requests.
Over half of the 145 UK universities and two-thirds of the 275 further education colleges that responded to the requests said they made use of the contracts.
The information was collated by the University and College Union (UCU), who submitted the freedom of information requests.
Zero-hour contracts, which do not specify an individual’s working hours and therefore do not provide a regular, consistent monthly income, have become controversial in recent months as their prevalence has become more widely known.
By comparison, the Recruitment and Employment Confederation found that 27% of companies use zero-hour contracts.
Simon Renton, UCU president, said: “Our findings shine a light on the murky world of casualisation in further and higher education. The widespread use of zero-hours contracts is the unacceptable underbelly of our colleges and universities.”
The UCU added that use of the contracts was “haphazard” and it was difficult to gauge their exact use within institutions.
The Guardian contacted universities who made use of zero-hour contracts. Edinburgh University, who made the most extensive use of them according to the FoI requests, said they were committed to ceasing the use of zero-hour contracts and were moving towards offering all staff guaranteed hours.
Bath University, who had the second-highest use of zero-hour contracts, said that flexible working arrangements were only given to staff working less than the equivalent of one day a week.
The UCU said that universities were using these contracts to help control costs during a tough period of academic institutions, although the side effect was a lack of consistent income for workers which may prevent them from making future financial plans.
In August the CIPD estimated there were one million workers in the UK employed on zero-hour contracts, well ahead of the ONS estimate of 250,000.
Vince Cable is undertaking a review of the use of zero-hour contracts in the UK.