Huge variation in graduate teaching assistants’ pay

Survey finds earnings fluctuate by department and wages fail to reflect hours worked

April 24, 2014

Source: Alamy

Pay for graduate teaching assistants varies massively among universities, with more than 20 paying a minimum rate of less than £15 an hour, an investigation by Times Higher Education has revealed.

According to a survey of more than 50 institutions, pay varied from less than £10-12 per hour at some institutions to more than £40 an hour at others.

Among the lowest rates of hourly pay quoted by the 42 institutions that gave figures was that of Leeds Trinity University at £9.96. The university told THE that this rate was awarded to graduates who give “low level assistance in the health and nutrition lab”, not PhD students, and insisted such work did not qualify as a GTA role. Six other universities specified a rate of pay for laboratory demonstrations and this varied between £12.60 and £26.46 per hour.

At the University of Leicester the hourly rate of pay was £11.20. A spokesman from the university said GTAs were contracted to work seven hours a week on a pro-rata salary of £4,075. They also get a £9,651 maintenance grant, and if this is included in salary calculations the hourly rate jumps to £37.71 per hour. A spokesman said graduate teaching assistants also received a fee waiver of almost £4,000.

Queen Mary University of London quoted among the highest rates of hourly pay in the survey, at £73.44 for giving a lecture. At the University of East Anglia the lecture rate was £56.37.

Eight universities provided THE with GTA pay rates in the form of annual salaries.

These ranged from a package at Edge Hill University for postgraduates teaching up to six hours a week that included a salary in the region of £7,380, with a tuition fee waiver and £5,000 in help for living costs, to pay equivalent to an annual salary up to £36,661 for academic tutors at the University of Sunderland.

Seven universities said that they used a multiplier or other method to top up basic pay to allow for preparation or marking time in addition to teaching activities.

But one PhD student, who did not want to be named, told THE that at his institution – Soas, University of London – this did not go far enough. Although Soas multiplies basic GTA pay by 2.5, the student said that this did not fully cover preparation time that could total seven to eight hours for each one-hour tutorial. Taking this into account, he claimed his hourly rate of pay dropped to “just about minimum wage”, while the preparation time also ate into his PhD study.

A campaign is now under way at Soas on pay for GTAs and other part-time teaching staff. Soas said it was aware of concerns and was reviewing terms and conditions with the University and College Union.

The THE survey also revealed that GTA pay can vary widely by department within a university. The University of Warwick has a standard rate of pay set centrally by the university, which is between £19.73 and £29.32, according to THE’s survey. But some departments are “cash rich” and able to pay up to three times the hourly rate, according to Lucy Gill, postgraduate officer at the University of Warwick Students’ Union, which is campaigning on the issue.

She suggested that it was arts and social sciences departments that often tended to pay just the standard rate. “That is a problem for [these] students because they are more dependent on teaching for income than science students because they do not have stipends and there is less research council funding available,” said Ms Gill.

She added that fair pay and conditions were also important for the students taught by GTAs. “Undergraduates get the best quality education when their GTAs are paid properly and they have time to prepare,” she said.

A statement from the University of Warwick said that pay varied because the nature of GTA roles and their duties “varies from department to department”. “We are exploring with our students’ union and UCU the nature and impact of that variation on pay and personal development issues,” it said.

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the UCU, said that GTAs were often not paid “for a host of duties they are forced to undertake and many have little say over the number of hours they are expected to do”. She called for “a fair and transparent sector wide system” of pay.

Meanwhile, Rachel Wenstone, NUS vice-president for higher education, warned institutions that informal and incomplete employment practices for GTAs could leave them open to “legal scrutiny”.

“Unpaid labour is unfair and exploitative and we must work with the sector to stamp it out,” she said.

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Reader's comments (1)

It is worth considering the pay of "Teaching Fellows" - frequently with PhDs, with a great deal of expertise in teaching and who carry at least some - if not all - of the responsibilities of curriculum design and development. Assuming that salaries for PDRAs and early-stage teaching fellows is around £30-32k p.a., and assume that they work 37.5 hours a week, this would translate to a basic pay of £16.40 per hour (not including holiday pay). Paying GTAs more than £15 an hour would require paying your teaching fellows more also.