Is it time to rethink GTA positions?

May 1, 2014

Graduate teaching assistantships should be scrapped, not only because of the wide discrepancies in pay and working conditions (“Labour of love: huge variation in GTA pay”, News, 24 April) but also because their introduction has created a divisive, two-tier system of support for postgraduate research.

A research student funded by, for example, a research council scholarship receives a (tax-free) stipend of about £13,900 per annum and can opt to do some undergraduate teaching for extra pay; GTAs on the other hand are usually required to shoulder substantial teaching loads without remuneration.

This system is unfair on GTAs, who usually have less time for research than other PhD students, and on undergraduate students, nowadays paying enormously high fees, whose teaching is fobbed off on to GTAs rather than being done by more senior, ie, more expensive, staff. Scrapping GTAs will result in fewer PhD students, especially in departments that struggle to attract external research funding, but is that such a bad thing?

In a steady state, each potential PhD supervisor in the university system will, on average over their entire career, produce just one PhD student who will get a job in academia. The vast majority of PhDs therefore have no chance of ever getting a faculty position. Some know this, of course, and happily take their skills elsewhere when they have completed a thesis. But many bright students are lured into GTA positions by the prospect that an illustrious career as an academic awaits them, when really they are just being hired as cheap teaching labour. The result is a growing pool of disaffected people with PhDs who feel, with some justification, that they’ve been duped.

Peter Coles
School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences
University of Sussex

Times Higher Education free 30-day trial

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

PhD Scholar in Medicine

University Of Queensland

Manager, Research Systems and Performance

Auckland University Of Technology

Lecturer in Aboriginal Allied Health

University Of South Australia

Lecturer, School of Nursing & Midwifery

Western Sydney University

College General Manager, SHE

La Trobe University
See all jobs

Most Viewed

Most Commented

Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford will host a homeopathy conference next month

Charity says Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford is ‘naive’ to hire out its premises for event

women leapfrog. Vintage

Robert MacIntosh and Kevin O’Gorman offer advice on climbing the career ladder

Woman pulling blind down over an eye
Liz Morrish reflects on why she chose to tackle the failings of the neoliberal academy from the outside
White cliffs of Dover

From Australia to Singapore, David Matthews and John Elmes weigh the pros and cons of likely destinations

Mitch Blunt illustration (23 March 2017)

Without more conservative perspectives in the academy, lawmakers will increasingly ignore and potentially defund social science, says Musa al-Gharbi