Precariousness And The University

17 Mar

As the cuts begin to bite, PhD students in Leeds are making plans and getting organised.

Hourly paid postgraduate teaching assistants at the School of Geography, University of Leeds, have been informed that their wages are to be cut by half, as university departments seek to trim their budgets in response to the removal of government funding for higher education.

Previously, teaching assistants (TAs) could claim separately for time spent on marking and preparation, in addition to the actual time spent teaching itself. Now TAs may only claim for their teaching hours at a rate of £14.10 an hour. Assuming that an hour of teaching requires only an hour of preparation, then the new rate of pay is just over the minimum wage at £7.05 an hour. In reality, it often requires at least three hours preparation, equating to much less than the minimum wage. Never mind marking.

As precarious workers with little effective union protection, we are especially vulnerable to these sort of unilateral attacks on wages, terms and conditions. We are clearly viewed as an easy target by those within the universities whose job it is to decide who will bear the brunt of the current education cuts. No doubt we, like all the unpaid interns trying to break into jobs market, are supposed to be grateful that we are offered the opportunity to labour for peanuts on the grounds that we are investing in our future careers and may one day be offered one of the few remaining permanent jobs that haven’t been culled as an offering to the gods of fiscal responsibility.

Postgraduate teaching staff across the UK (and beyond) need to get organised. We need to be in a better position to resist such attacks. Yet there is currently a lack of accessible information or communication about how working conditions and rates of pay differ between departments and institutions. Getting clued up about the conditions within which this work is carried out is an important first step. To this end, members of the Really Open University are currently in talks with the University of Leeds Students’ Union about possibility of the latter carrying out a survey of postgraduate teaching work across the University.

In the meantime, we want to start talking to other postgraduate teaching staff. Are you a research postgraduate engaged in teaching and/or marking at a university? If so, we would love to hear from you about your working conditions, rates of pay, and whether these have been suffered as a result of the cuts. Drop us an email at this address:


This article by Really Open University was featured in The Paper.


One Response to “Precariousness And The University”

  1. Andy Coverdale March 17, 2011 at 3:14 pm #

    I think the survey is a great idea. Might I suggest that it also incorporates the rates of pay for roles postgraduates often take on in addition to those classified as formal teaching (such as internships, academic and administrative support etc.) which are frequently less well paid. Doing so may provide a richer and more authentic view of the current postgraduate experience.

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