LUU should support postgraduate teaching assistants to receive fair pay for the work they do

Passed: March 2017 (9th)

What do you want/Why do you want it?

We would like the Union to support postgraduate researchers in seeking changes to University of Leeds policy for postgraduates who teach. This would be aimed at achieving a more accurate reflection of the amount of time needed to plan teaching activity, offer ongoing support to students, and conscientiously mark essays/reports in the teaching contracts offered to postgraduate researchers who teach. Currently most postgraduate teaching assistant contracts vastly underestimate the actual time needed to undertake the work. It would also aim to achieve greater parity between schools and faculties on what constitutes, say, an hour’s work. For example, there are currently large differences between schools in the amount of time postgraduate teaching assistants are allocated to mark undergraduate work.

The current code of practice was drawn up in 2014 with the understanding that it would be reviewed annually. This review is now overdue and offers an opportunity to improve these conditions and ensure that schools and faculties across campus are adhering to these policies in their recruitment and appointment of PGRs to teaching positions. While the code of practice includes guidelines on how much PGRs should be paid for an hour’s work, it does not currently include guidelines on how schools should calculate what this constitutes.

Securing changes to University policy would benefit both postgraduates and undergraduates, as well as the University more generally. Currently many postgraduates are forced to work for free, exceeding their contracted hours, just to make sure undergraduates receive the quality of teaching and feedback they deserve. There are a number of particular issues that would improve the experience of all students involved on both sides of this concern:

  • Affording postgraduates more time to mark undergraduate work would result in more thorough and useful feedback. Allowing for more preparation time would mean that seminars would be of higher quality for undergraduates, while also giving postgraduates the time and space to develop their professional skills in these areas.
  • Being a postgraduate teaching assistant can be a rewarding job that gives the postgraduate student vital experience for an academic career. This should be an opportunity for everyone, not just those that can afford to work for ‘free’.

Improving the teaching contracts of postgraduates would also allow them to balance teaching with their research, benefitting them in particular and the University’s research output in general. This would likely improve 3-year completion rates in schools where postgraduates have unrealistic teaching contracts, reducing the emotional and financial hardship postgraduates face when having to complete their qualification without the support of funding.

Expires: March 2020 (9th)

Submitted By: Abiha Khan

Officer: Education

Area of Work: Postgraduate Students

Updates

June 2020: Unfortunately there are no major updates to this work over the summer as a result of lots of LUU staff being furloughed (ongoing), as well as the LUU building and campus being closed. As staff return to work and the new Officer team settle into their roles this will be picked up again. The PostGraduate Engagement Manager has also left their post, so we are looking for a new staff support for this policy.

March 2020: Idea resubmitted and passed.

January 2020: This idea will be resubmitted for March 2020 Forums.

December 2019: PET met with Postgraduate Engagement Manager for update. Campaign held back so as not to clash with UCU Strikes, as there is a lot of crossover with this campaign. The intention is now to run this in Spring Term. Postgraduate Team have been gathering testimony across the past term, so this is well on the way. Soft lobbying has been working effectively as well, got verbal commitment to look into the issue from the Vice Chancellor at latest Q&A, Dean of Doctoral College has raised with [Central Uni] HR as has Postgraduate Engagement Manager: so approaching that from two sides. They have the backing of graduate board and academics etc, HR are the only remaining block to triggering a review into pay for PGRs who teach.

October 2019: Campaign now scheduled for November, Exec Team on board. If you're a PGR who would like to be involved in this campaign, please contact the Postgraduate Engagement Manager on S.R.Sandison@leeds.ac.uk.

July 2019: Campaign approved and postponed until October 2019 for logistical and impact reasons. Outcomes of this should include re-submission of policy when it expires in March 2020. UCU report on casualisation of HE teaching staff will help. In addition, Doctoral College are still putting pressure on University HR

May 2019: Rep from Geography undertook a report on teaching in their school and shared it with LUU and the Doctoral College.

October 2018: Exec and Postgraduate Engagement Manager are discussing this as a campaign, to better inform all students.

June 2018: UCU have extended free membership to PGRs which is ongoing. Industrial action in Spring 2018 distracted them slightly. LUU will collaborate on an anti-casualisation conference to take place October 18.

May 2018: The Dean of the Doctoral College has triggered a review of the Code of Practice with HR after attempts to contact schools to understand how it's being used during the 17/18 session were unsuccessful. She has requested that this pay particularly close attention to issues around prep, marking, and training. LUU and UCU will both be consulted before this is rolled out.

May 2017: In process of setting up joint meeting with UCU to try to increase PGR membership of UCU so they can talk to Uni about issues as well. Uni likely to talk to US and UCU separately, rather than together which is less beneficial to everyone. Education Officer has spoken to Deputy Vice Chancellor about it who is keen to support.