New universities' growing use of teaching assistants and graduate students to deliver education on the cheap may lead to industrial action, said Natfhe, the university and college lecturers' union, last week.
Launching a campaign to stop management introducing cheap alternatives to properly paid lecturing staff, the union said that the proposals threatened both the quality of teaching and the position of lecturers.
University managements facing an expanding student population and less funding for teaching staff had proposed rates of pay as low as Pounds 9,000 per year for 20 hours of teaching per week covering seminars, tutorials and assessment work. In addition some were offering half the union hourly rate and requiring research students to take on unpaid teaching as a condition of their bursaries. This, said the union, undermines an already unacceptably low starting salary for lecturers of just above Pounds 12,000.
Liz Allen, Natfhe negotiating secretary, said that institutions that employ teaching assistants will be short-changing their students. Small group work like tutorials and assessment is an essential part of the lecturers' job and is crucial to students' progress.
"Natfhe will be doing its utmost to keep the new universities a teaching assistant-free zone. The quality of education in the sector depends on it," she said.
If teaching assistants are brought in, Natfhe's policy is to recruit them into the union and seek to improve their pay and conditions. Natfhe says that it has always been opposed to teaching-only contracts, on the grounds that it is vital for staff to have time for research to keep up to date with their subjects.
It says that there is the danger that staff will become increasingly remote from their students if teaching assistants take over seminar and tutorial work. This would make it impossible to assess students progress and identify those who have difficulties with their courses.