A lack of security is damaging the mental and physical health of casual university staff, according to a new report.

Research by the University and College Union (UCU) suggests the employees are working multiple jobs and struggling to pay bills.

More than seven in 10 of the 3,802 casual staff working in higher education across the UK who were surveyed believe their mental health has been damaged by being on insecure contracts. More than 40 per cent said it had affected their physical health.

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The report warns the use of casual contracts is damaging the quality of research and the education students receive.

It says staff are constantly faced with the choice of cutting corners with preparation, marking and feedback, or continuing to work unpaid.

The UCU said some 49,000 researchers in the sector are on fixed-term contracts, with many on contracts that are nominally open-ended, but which build in redundancy dates. There are 37,000 teaching staff on fixed-term contracts, the majority of them paid by the hour.

The report says a further 71,000 teachers are employed as 'atypical academics' but not counted in the main staff record.

These staff tend to be hourly-paid teachers, employed on the lowest contract levels, with many employed as casual workers, having fewer employment rights.

UCU’s Scotland Official, Mary Senior said: “We’re making some progress in addressing precarious contracts in universities in Scotland, but this report shows there’s still much more to do to address the impact on staff.

“Staff are telling us that their mental health is suffering because of the lack of security, along with the pressure of having too much work to do and insufficient time to do it.

"The widespread use of such contracts is damaging the quality of research and education students receive and universities need to stop exploiting casualised staff."

A spokesman for Universities Scotland accepted higher education institutions used of flexible contracts, but said they were committed to avoiding "exploitative practices".

He added: "We’re concerned to hear of some of the figures about staff wellbeing reported in this survey. Staff on flexible contracts are entitled to holiday pay, sick pay and other benefits and there is no use of exclusivity clauses.

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"These elements of flexible contracts are there to provide a better work-life balance for staff even within the nature of flexible contracts.

“Higher education institutions have done a lot of work with recognised trade unions in recent years to reach a better and shared understanding the use of flexible or casual contracts within the sector.”

A spokesman for the Universities and Colleges Employers Association added: "The findings point to some important concerns and these are taken seriously by individual universities, with many reviewing arrangements for hourly-paid staff."