Hourly work but daily challenges

June 1, 2007

Part-time status does not mean second class, so make sure you know what is expected of you and that you have access to equipment, resources and appropriate training. Harriet Swain explains

Can't use the library, can't find the photocopier, and can't find anyone to help you out. Thank goodness you're only there a few days a month.

Ah, but there's your problem. It is easy for hourly paid lecturers to be left out of the loop, warns Tony Brand, director of learning and teaching at Anglia Ruskin University. And he says you have to be "appropriately assertive" about even apparently trivial things, such as photocopying, to ensure this doesn't happen. "If you are seen as marginal and you behave marginally then it is a self-fulfilling prophecy," he says.

Colin Bryson, learning and teaching co-ordinator at Nottingham Business School, Nottingham Trent University, suggests asking yourself a lengthy set of questions when you are offered a job as an hourly paid lecturer. "I think people get drawn in and don't realise the scale of the task," he says.

First, you should make sure you know exactly what you are being asked to do - who your students are, how many there are, what level you are expected to teach, and in what format, and how it fits in with the rest of the module and programme. It is useful to see examples of teaching on the rest of the module and to find out how much help you will be given in determining the topic, learning outcomes and any other aspects of teaching. If you are just being asked to give the occasional guest lecture, support will probably be minimal. If you need to be available to students at other times, take part in assessments, attend meetings or take on other tasks, you should expect much more help.

"If you can't get satisfactory answers to these questions, I would be very wary," Bryson says.

You also need to ask about the contract and get hold of a staff handbook. Find out about the selection process and rate of pay, as well as whether you have access to a pension scheme, holiday and sick pay, and whether your contract is renewable.

Jane Thompson, assistant general secretary at the University and College Union, says you should make sure you are receiving the same pay as colleagues doing equivalent work and find out how your rate of pay has been worked out. If you are only being paid for an hour of preparation and you are really doing six then you will need to question this.

She says it is often difficult to work out exactly what your employment status is. Sometimes employers will claim you don't have a contract of employment when your role is clearly that of a contracted employee. Don't just take the employer's word for it, she says. Get a second opinion, preferably that of the union. The UCU has joint membership agreements with a number of professional bodies, so you should not feel that you cannot join a higher education union because your main job is elsewhere.

Terryl Bacon, an hourly paid lecturer in cultural and media studies at the University of the West of England, advises refusing to work more than the official hours for which you are paid, and making time to publish, even if it means ignoring student needs. "Part-timers, unlike full-time staff, are not funded to do research or to publish," he says. "To do so while working for poor wages and juggling other commitments is extremely difficult, and very few manage it. Thus, no matter how experienced or good an hourly paid lecturer is, they are rarely rewarded."

But he says you must not accept second-class status. "They need you more than you need them."

Bryson warns that you should nevertheless make sure that you have been chosen through a rigorous selection process. Otherwise, you could find yourself having to reapply for your job. "Do it properly now and it will be easier later," he advises.

Getting a teaching qualification is a good idea for the same reason. "You can suddenly be kicked in the teeth because you can find everyone else is qualified and you are not, so you cannot apply for a more substantial contract," he says.

He advises asking about arrangements for continuing professional development, career development, courses and possible accreditation. You also need to know whether peer observation and support is in place, whether you get a mentor and whether you will be appraised.

Bryson suggests that you also need to know whether you receive a full induction, access to e-mail, virtual learning environments, and a desk, and what sort of access you get to libraries and to other colleagues.

Michael Mumisa, visiting lecturer in theology at Birmingham University, says that it can sometimes be difficult for a visiting lecturer to access the university library and other resources once a course is finished, even though you are still advising students and responding to their e-mails. You will therefore need to check with administration that this access remains open to you as long as you need it.

Mumisa says that if you are expected to deal with students outside the lecture theatre you need to make sure that they know how and when to contact you because your details probably won't be on the university website, and they may feel they are imposing on your time. You also need to make sure they understand your role and take you seriously. "They are always asking when the lecturer is coming back," he says. "They don't know who they should be asking questions regarding the exam."

Finally, Mumisa says, try to remember where you are. If you are a visiting lecturer at more than one institution, it is easy to get mixed up and to forget what level you are teaching or to think that you have told students something when, in fact, you were speaking to another group entirely.

Further information
University and College Union: www.ucu.org.uk
Higher Education Academy: www.heacademy.ac.uk
The HEA has established a Part-Time Teachers Network Planning Group to improve support.

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