Part-time work

Be proactive in seeking full access to equipment, resources, training and information when working part-time

February 28, 2008

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.

He urges part-time lecturers to be “appropriately assertive” about even apparently trivial things, such as access to photocopying facilities, 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. “People get drawn in and don’t realise the scale of the task,” he says.

First, ensure you know exactly what you are being asked to do: who your students are, what level you will teach, 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.

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, expect much more help.

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

Ask about the contract and obtain 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, recommends confirming that you are receiving the same pay as colleagues doing equivalent work and find out how your rate of pay has been worked out. Are you only being paid for an hour of preparation and really doing six?

Sometimes employers will claim that part-time lecturers do not have a contract of employment, even thought the role is clearly that of a contracted employee. Get a second opinion, Thompson says, preferably that of the union.

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. “Part-timers 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.”

Do not accept second-class status, he adds. “They need you more than you need them.”

Bryson 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. 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 it can 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 that this access remains open to you as long as you need it.

He 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.

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 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.

Links:

• 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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