Postgraduates who teach in the History Department at the University have seen their wages cut by 50 per cent in the last year.
Postgraduates who teach (PGWTs) have had part of their wages cut from £26.75 to £8.75 per hour.
One postgraduate expressed frustration with the recent cuts: “Over the last year, the postgraduates who teach had their wages cut by over 50 per cent. They were asked to teach the same courses and complete the same workload they had the previous year, but for half the pay.”
The University has commented on the cut, stating that it was the result of a previous “clerical error” which meant that wages in the department had been set too high in the first place. They stated that these rates “were unsustainable and unfair to PGWTs in other departments.”
A spokesperson for the University added that members of staff “were informed of these rates in their letters of appointment.”
Some postgraduates have, however, recently expressed dissatisfaction with the way they have been treated, saying that they are being used as the “lackeys” of departments.
One postgraduate, who wished to remain anonymous, stated: “Departments use postgraduate lackeys to ease the tensions of tight budgets or lighten heavy teaching loads… At times, it feels like being in a three-year, poorly paid internship.”
They added that postgraduates require teaching experience to be competitive in the job market, but that “this situation is exploited by the University. Administrators know that postgraduates can’t say no to teaching experience”.
Cuts are also being made at the University of Leeds, where PhD students are rejecting a cut of 56 per cent.
Bob Hughes, YUSU Welfare Officer, offered his support to a new national campaign launched to prevent the exploitation of postgraduates employed by universities.
The campaign and network, the Postgraduate Workers Association (PGWA), has been launched to support postgraduates whose conditions, the website claims, are being attacked in the wake of a “Higher Education funding crisis.”
The campaign, which seeks to protect the “respect, pay and conditions” of postgraduates, has been inspired by a host of recent cuts to the wages of PGWTs.
The University introduced a Policy on PGWTs in August 2010 to ensure that postgraduates were treated “appropriately”. The policy was endorsed by the National Union of Students (NUS).
Hughes stated that postgraduates, who make up approximately 23 per cent of all Higher Education students, are often a “black hole” when it comes to support. He added that despite continued efforts by YUSU and the Graduate Students’ Association (GSA) to ensure the fair treatment of postgraduates, “there is still a lot more that needs to be done”.
A spokesperson for the Graduate Students’ Association (GSA) commented:”The GSA views the Postgraduate Workers Association (PGWA) as an entirely appropriate and commendable initiative. Unfortunately there are still instances where students are not paid for the work they do. Although these have become rare since the new Postgraduates Who Teach (PGWT) policy has been introduced.
“We are committed to working with the University to tackle remaining student employment issues including: improving recruitment processes to teaching and demonstrating positions; increasing union awareness and highlighting the benefits of membership; arguing for pay rates that are reflective of the responsibility held by students; and increasing the recognition of outstanding work.
“The University excels at providing training opportunities and courses but we have more to do to recognise and promote the benefits of PGWT employment.”
The PGWA was launched at a conference in May, where it called for the University Colleges Union (UCU) and the NUS to launch a full inquiry into the work conditions of postgraduates.