Hours, yours and mine

Hourly paid lecturers at Reading find further confirmation of teaching assistants’ unpaid overtime, and call for dialogue on procedures and expectations

June 11, 2015
Businessman holding an egg timer

The plight of graduate teaching assistants made the pages of Times Higher Education again recently after a King’s College London survey found that more than 95 per cent of the university’s GTAs say that they work longer than their contracted hours. A post on the We the Humanities website continued the debate.

Verity Burke (@dicksnensian), a PhD researcher and hourly paid lecturer at the University of Reading, writes that there are “manifold” problems with GTA work. The first is simply financial: with diminishing funding for higher education, especially in the humanities, “PhD students will be supplementing a partial grant or using teaching as an important source of income, rather than solely as a necessary notch in the CV belt”.

“There seems to be a ‘two-tier’ system emerging, where you get full-time staff on the top and the GTAs fielding a lot of the forward-facing parts of the university,” Ms Burke told THE.

Jessica Sage (@academicjess), We the Humanities’ co-founder and another hourly paid lecturer at Reading, said that a survey attached to the bottom of the post (attracting 104 respondents as THE went to press) had produced startling data about GTAs’ working hours and expectations.

“It seems the hourly rate for GTAs and early career researchers on fixed-term contracts – anywhere between £10 and £43 per hour – varies massively across the country,” she said.

Of the 100 people who answered the question about whether they worked less, the same or more than their contract, “86 per cent worked more than their contracted hours. Twenty-five per cent…said they worked 21-40 per cent more than their contracted hours, and 24 per cent worked 41-60 per cent more.”

“GTAs frequently deliver a large amount of a department’s course content,” Ms Burke’s blog adds. “We mark essays, provide personalised feedback for each assignment completed, plan lessons, set and receive work, reply to emails.”

Dr Sage echoed this view to THE, saying that the extra work the survey respondents were doing was “largely administration”.

“The contracts tended to reflect the teaching hours very well, but not so much all the work that goes around teaching,” she said. “People really care about this teaching and it’s very student-centred – all the responses are about doing the best for the students. The frustration seems to come about because somehow, perhaps, the way in which GTAs and adjuncts are being employed is counter to putting the students first.”

Both Dr Sage and Ms Burke hoped that the blog and survey would prompt further dialogue, both within the humanities community and possibly at the management level.

“It’s not about launching a great big charge on people sitting at managerial desks, it’s about opening up a conversation,” Dr Sage said.

“For GTAs, it can be an incredibly opaque world: you don’t always know what you’re going to teach at the start of the term, you don’t always know when you’re teaching it, there isn’t necessarily a job application procedure.”

She added: “It’s just about making it a bit more open so that people know what they should expect, what works and what doesn’t.”

John Elmes

Send links to topical, insightful and quirky online comment by and about academics to chris.parr@tesglobal.com

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Article originally published as: THE Scholarly Web (11 June 2015)

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