Assessment of postgraduate pay must be realistic

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To all students, the issue of money is a case of putting up without while doing what you (hopefully) love. Of course, many students hope they will be reimbursed for their skint years of student-hood in later years as some of the most qualified of the workforce.

Indeed, Masters and PhD students endure further years of near-empty pockets in the hope of future recompense without any student loans available to them. While undoubtedly this is not such a problem for those from affluent backgrounds, to many from less financially comfortable backgrounds this can make the postgraduate research experience a true labour of love, especially in these economically competitive times when a degree does not guarantee a well-paid job, or indeed a job at all.

Bearing all this in mind, doesn’t it seem like postgraduate student teaching work is an ideal solution to such a problem for today’s postgraduates?
The current issue with this work appears to be the recent and sharp step down in pay for postgraduates who teach (PGWTs). There are examples cited of the University of Leeds cutting funding by 56 per cent, and York’s History Department cutting PGWTs’ wages from £26.75 to £8.75 per hour.

This has led to a postgraduate mobilisation, particularly through a new campaign group, the Postgraduate Workers Association (PGWA). The main criticisms seem to be that PGWT work can result in manipulation of student labour by universities which are now acting in more economically motivated ways.

PGWT work can result in manipulation of student labour by universities which are now acting in more economically motivated ways

There are also concerns that it feeds social immobility, as the postgraduates who rush for the teaching jobs tend to be those who don’t have to worry about earning money too.

These concerns do seem perfectly valid, and especially with rather dramatic funding decreases, as can be sensed from the figures above.

Also, to put the pay issue in some perspective using the York History Department’s example; for part-time student work such as waitressing, bar-tending or shop work, most would not complain at a £8.75 per hour wage. The £26.75 which York’s History PGWTs previously received therefore appears positively off the scale compared to most student jobs (this was in fact apparently due to a clerical error overpaying previous postgraduates).

I can’t help but think that the postgraduate student experience, especially in the humanities, is notoriously badly funded and has been for years. Agreed, pressure on postgraduates and underpay are important issues. However, if you can academically and fiscally gain from what is effectively a part-time job through your university while still being paid a competitive wage wouldn’t you prefer to work as a PGWT, over the other student work options?

In these economically stringent times, yes, students must be careful to stand up for their rights, especially during a period of funding changes in the university sector, but also remember PGWT works advantages, while the opportunity for relevant experience, training and (at least some) pay it provides still exists.

4 comments

  1. 20 Jun ’12 at 3:51 pm

    Anonymous History PGWT

    As I have also stated on the other article in Nouse on this topic.
    To clarify this – as a current History PGWT – this “slash” in pay was NOT for teaching. Teaching is still paid at the rate of £26.75 per hour – I can only presume that this and the hugely misleading original article from which this stems – is directed at a clerical error regarding how much PGWTs are paid for marking, where £8.75 is in line with the rest of the university – and, in my opinion, appropriate and “realistic”.

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  2. Dear Anonymous,

    My sincere apologies if you feel the article was factually misrepresentative, and many thanks for drawing it to our attention.
    Despite this, I would hope that the overall point of the article still stands.

    Best,

    Emma

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  3. 21 Jun ’12 at 11:37 pm

    Someone who knows about this stuff

    Although different departments do things differently, a pay rate that high will be for taking seminars (not marking papers), and will consider marking time, preparation and admin (and potentially office hours). So it’s hardly “positively off the scale” – to describe the rate as such, without bothering to research what it covers, is patently lazy journalism. The hourly rate soon drops after all of that is considered, and will probably end up being similar to the marking rate, if not less.

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  4. Science postgraduates supervising in labs are paid around £15 per hour or so, again varying across departments and specific jobs. However, it’s a couple of hours per week for only a relatively small portion of the term, so it doesn’t really work out anywhere near as profitable as a normal “student job”. Yet, a substantial number of postgraduates across departments will fully rely on teaching to keep themselves stocked with ramen noodles. This is all on top of a fairly hefty load of work and research that just wouldn’t be worth dropping for less than £10 per hour.

    The hourly rate also doesn’t cover preparation work, the training period, or the time spent answering emails or with undergraduates knocking on the door asking questions – that’s all either ‘free’ or ‘included’ depending on your perspective. And as mentioned elsewhere, the rate for marking is notably lower. So, when considered next to IT consultants who can charge £500 per hour, it’s nowhere near “off the scale”.

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