An NUS survey undertaken at the end of last year has suggested that “the hard work of postgraduates is woefully undervalued and underpaid by their institutions.” The survey found that, in real terms, just under a third of postgraduate teachers are paid below the minimum wage (£6.90/hour), with 43% of respondents describing their pay as “unfair”.
“If a labourer on a building site were working ten hour shifts but being paid for only five, we’d call it exploitation. This is a reality for many postgraduates.”
Responding to findings that the average post-grad tutors works twice the number of hours for which they are paid, Postgraduate Officer Laura Theobald, told IMPACT that tutors’ responsibilities amount to “more than a one hour seminar. There is preparation and marking too”.
In the report NUS Vice President (Higher Education), Rachel Wenstone, says that: “If a labourer on a building site were working ten hour shifts but being paid for only five, we’d call it exploitation. This is a reality for many postgraduates.” Echoing Wenstone’s declaration of exploitation, one in three respondents claimed not to have received a contract before undertaking employment, while 82% claimed not to be part of a trade union.
Some universities make teaching compulsory, with one student saying that after beginning her PhD, “I was told I had to teach in exchange for my fees being paid.” The report also uncovered failings in the support given to graduates by their universities, with one in five not receiving any training, while 50% of teachers claimed to have received no feedback from students. Some institutions, the survey finds, select teachers informally, with one respondent saying “several of my friends were very upset last year that they were not emailed to ask if they wanted to teach, and since there is no application process they just don’t get a chance to even try. I think if it was known they didn’t do it properly, they would be in trouble.”
“I was told I had to teach in exchange for my fees being paid”
In a further development, the Higher Education Commission has called the Professional and Career Development Loan scheme, which helps pay for learning that ultimately improves a learner’s employability, “uncompetitive and unattractive” and urged a publicly funded student loan system to address the lack of financial assistance available to graduates.
Joshua Fraser and Dylan Williams