The use of casual and temporary labour in the UK labour market is not a new phenomenon, but an increase in the use of so-called ‘zero hours contracts’ has drawn considerable attention from pressure groups, the media and all three main political parties over the past 18 months. While official figures indicate that the majority of zero hours contracts are found in the retail, hospitality, and healthcare sectors, the use of these arrangements at higher education establishments has also attracted attention and has become an area of focus for HE trade unions. This paper begins with a review of the legal framework for these contracts and temporary work in the UK, the economic conditions that have prevailed, and the political responses to pressure from media and civil society to curb their use and, where this may be the case, abuse. The main body of the paper focuses on the use of these contracts in higher education based on research by the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) and the paper concludes with reflections on the employment relations issues and tensions within the context of an increasingly competitive higher education landscape.