LUU should work to have PGRs recognised as staff

Passed: March 2023 (13th)

What do you want? / Why do you want it? 

Postgraduate researchers (PGRs) are the backbone of the higher education sector. We are its present and its future. We work on world-changing research that can make a real difference to people’s lives and, without us, many modules would not be able to function. 

We teach and train students, and take ideas out of the university into the wider world, but we are not valued. We do much of the same work as university staff, but we are not afforded the same recognition, rights, protections, or pay as staff, because we are considered ‘students’ for our research or ‘workers’ for our teaching, rather than staff. In the 2022/23 academic year, the University of Leeds offered 2x £650 cost of living payments to staff on pay grade scale 6 and below[1]. PGRs who teach are paid at grade 5.1, and those who demonstrate are paid at grade 4.1. But these PGRs were ineligible for these payments because they are treated as ‘workers’ rather than staff[2]. PGRs don’t have access to in-work benefits such as funded child care entitlements, state benefits, pensions, or housing stability. 

Our work is undervalued while we are overworked, under-supported and significantly more at risk of mental ill health. Our position outside the staff structure but with significant responsibilities leaves us isolated, and unprotected from toxic research cultures. Being recognised as staff would bring rights, protections and pay for our work. It would also give access to in-work benefits, pensions, childcare, parental and adoption leave, and sick pay. All of us deserve security and a good quality of life without struggle. We must be sufficiently paid in more than just experience, and given reasonable workloads. We should not be paying to work. We deserve security and stability, not zero-hours contracts. 

As staff we can participate in the struggle to break down racist, ableist, classist and other oppressive barriers in the higher education sector. UCU Postgrads, a group representing PGRs in the largest post-school union in the world, have written a manifesto outlining the reasons why PGRs must be classified as staff rather than ‘students’[3]. UCU subsequently submitted a response to UKRI’s consultation entitled Getting a Better Deal for PGRs[4]. 

This idea calls on LUU to recognise the importance of this work and this issue and to campaign to see national change, co-operating with UCU Postgrads and others. LUU should lobby UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), who fund many PGRs and set the standards that Universities follow, and the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy, which are the department that funds UKRI and that UKRI reports to, to fundamentally reassess how Universities see, recruit, train and engage PGRs ensuring their labour is recognised and they’re given the pay, rights and protections they deserve. Alongside campaigning for national change, LUU should continue to push for PGRs to get a better deal at the University of Leeds with more secure teaching and demonstrating arrangements, challenging assumptions about what research degrees look like, and advocating for PGRs. 

Research is labour. PGRs work as staff. PGRs must be staff. 

[1] [2] emely-concerned-as-cost-of-living-bites/ [3] U-PGRs_as_staff_manifesto_Jun21.pdf [4] ng_a_better_deal_for_PGRS__Jun_22.pd 

Expires: March 2026 (13th)

Submitted By: George Aylett

Officer: Postgrad 

Area of Work: Campaigns/Education


04/06/23: Initial meeting with Idea Holder took place. Spoke about current policy landscape nationally-UCU Postgrads submission to APPG for students. Cost of Living Report reflected upon. We did the same thing locally. Speaking about whether this has been raised at Russell Group SUs.