Inequality in teaching pay

March 19, 1999

Julia Hinde pores over a THES/Royal Institution survey showing that male researchers are paid more to teach

Male researchers appear to be paid on average 30 per cent more than women when it comes to teaching, while pay rates for teaching in the new universities beat those of the old universities, The THES science survey has found.

The survey was designed to discover just how much of a juggling act today's academic world can be. The THES and the Royal Institution asked postgraduates, research students and those on research- only contracts about their teaching commitments and how this affected their research.

Though the survey sample was small - there were just 66 responses - and leaves many questions open, it shows interesting trends and some worrying concerns. About 40 per cent of respondents said they found teaching "problematic" to organise around research commitments.

Most of the survey's respondents - the average age was 28 - were involved in teaching as well as research. They taught on average 5.4 hours a week, though it was not clear whether this included preparation and marking time or just contact hours. On average, respondents said they were paid Pounds 16 an hour - again it is not clear whether this was just contact hours.

Men said they were paid just over Pounds 17 an hour on average, while women got just under Pounds 13 an hour, despite the similarity of age group. Whether the difference can be related to subject areas is not clear.

Two-thirds of respondents were men. Those in new universities said they were paid about Pounds 17.30 an hour, while old universities were paid almost Pounds 2 an hour less.

There were mixed views on how teaching commitments affected research. A third said teaching had no impact, about a quarter said it was helpful, but four out of ten said it was "problematic".

Many respondents spoke of the time pressures placed on research by teaching, particularly since preparation and marking time, which often take up more time than teaching, were rarely paid. Others said there were considerable pressures to teach even though it was not compulsory.

A postgraduate student at an old university explained: "Teaching involves making personal research subordinate to the demands related to teaching, such as marking and preparation. Research students who do not teach are more likely to complete their research within the funded period."

Another PhD student said: "Preparation work is often heavy, unpaid and causes stress and damage to research work. Often the marking criteria for class teaching is unclear, while no training is given to new teachers/lecturers."

For some, financial hardship makes teaching a necessity. One contributor said: "Teaching is becoming financially necessary while conducting a research degree. This is particularly true of the fourth unfunded ESRC year. Now that there is a requirement to spend two-thirds of the first year doing general research skills, rather than focused research, it is practically impossible to submit in three years - teaching only adds to the temporal pressures."

Teaching helped some researchers put complex ideas in context. One PhD student said: "Teaching on my PhD topic gave me the opportunity to voice my ideas without getting too hammered by boffin academics. The big task was to make complex ideas and theories more comprehensible to students and therefore to me too."

Others enjoy teaching per se, and see it as valuable experience for a career in higher education. It also gives CV points, some said.

"If considering a career in higher education teaching or lecturing, then this experience is invaluable to your early training," said one contributor. Another added: "I choose to do teaching voluntarily to aid academic job prospects. With the competitive job environment it is essential to have some teaching skills along with a PhD."

Some seem to actually enjoy teaching for teaching's sake. "Teaching is not directly helpful to my research," said a female post- graduate. "But it is very important to me personally. It is a complete change from lab work, and I love working with students and feel I am making an active contribution to promoting science in the university. It is part of my PhD I would be very sorry to have to give up."

But one Oxford University post- doctorate student, who does not teach, said: "In the end, only publication will get me a position."

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