Post-graduate tutors getting a raw deal

As numbers of undergraduate admissions rise this year and budgets get squeezed, spare a thought for seminar tutors who, in at least one department, are now being required to do some of their work for free.

A large proportion of teaching staff within British universities, including Warwick, are postgraduate or postdoctoral tutors paid by the hour. Their contracts are usually short term and there is no guarantee they will be renewed. They have very few rights, no job security, and receive very little formal support, in terms of career progression and training, from the institutions for which they work. In terms of employment standards, Higher Education in Britain is second only to the catering industry when it comes to relying on casual staff.

Ask any hourly-paid tutor how they feel about their work and they will tell you they that they enjoy it, they care about their students, they want to be good teachers and to do their jobs well. These are people at the start of their academic careers who still have time to prioritise their teaching. They can still remember what it is like to be an undergraduate, and can therefore remember what undergraduates need from their tutors. The majority will be highly-qualified, highly-motivated people who take pride in their work and who are prepared to put themselves at a disadvantage to ensure that they fulfil all of their responsibilities.

Unfortunately, universities are fully prepared to take advantage of the dedication and enthusiasm of their most vulnerable employees. Ask the same tutors about the problems associated with their work and they report a huge discrepancy between the number of hours for which they are paid and the number of hours they work. Once all of the responsibilities of the job (including preparation time, marking, administration, discussing with students, replying to emails and attending meetings) are taken into account many find they are earning less than the minimum wage. Now budgets are being cut, already low levels of pay are being reduced and at Warwick some tutors are no longer paid for office hours.

But this is not all about pay. The facilities provided for these staff to do their work vary from department to department and tutors very rarely have access to dedicated office space. Virtually all have to provide their own books. There are also other far more insidious problems associated with this type of employment, including a lack of recognition within departments and within the university as a whole. At Warwick, these staff members do not have Annual Review meetings and do not have access to the university’s Coaching and Mentoring scheme. Despite carrying a significant proportion of the institution’s undergraduate teaching load they also have little or no formal say in how that teaching is carried out.

There is one simple step Warwick could take to improve matters. In keeping with a national agreement between universities and the relevant unions, the university has recently put in place a new pay and reward structure for its staff. According to the website, this is to ‘ensure fair, consistent treatment for all staff’, to recognise and reward the contributions of employees, and to improve career development opportunities. Unfortunately, it does not apply to staff on hourly-paid contracts.

A 2008 report by the Universities and Colleges Employers Association reveals that 78% of universities have already integrated their hourly-paid staff into a single pay structure. This places Warwick in the minority of universities who have not extended these rights.


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