Lobby to stop free/exploitative teaching

Anonymous submitted on

Thursday 3rd August 2017


Many PhD students teach, as demonstrators or seminar leaders, and most are paid on contracts with a standard rate of pay. Some PhDs, however, are made to work for free or are paid on studentships that are far below the minimum wage. The main reason for PhDs working this way is for the 'experience', so highly valued in less affluent disciplines. This means the university is not offering equal pay for equal work and teachers have no rights because they have no contract. Help to continue the fight for basic workers rights and contracts for postgrads who teach. 


Here, you can view the complete set of official responses from the sabbatical officers regarding this submission.

Students' Union replied on

Friday 4th Aug 2017 1:50pm

Hello again, 

Giles (PGR Officer) has just replied to me with the following:

Thanks for getting in touch! Last year, the Postgraduate Research Officer at the Union was involved in a project with the University to create a policy around pay and conditions for PGRs involved in teaching. As part of this, the University will require all PGR ‘demonstrators’ as they are termed, to have a contract outlining their pay and other elements. Further to this, PGRs should be provided with a summary of teaching responsibilities per module, before they start, which will include elements such as hours, any prep time required, what the work will actually involve, etc. Furthermore, the policy outright states that PGRs may not be compelled to teach as we're aware some teaching occurs that is essentially “my supervisor told me to” which we wanted to ensure PGRs could always refuse. The issue you raise around studentships is a complicated one - where students have agreed to do teaching as a condition of their studentship, this is an area for improvement as we’re aware that at the moment this policy likely doesn’t do enough to provide them with protections, though they are covered by it and should be given summary of teaching responsibilities, etc. Furthermore, the policy states that unpaid or ‘volunteer’ teaching must be limited to a threshold of hours and may only be undertaken as part of a mentorship process rather than simply dumping exams/coursework on PGRs to mark with no real payoff for the PGR. 

We will hopefully be revising and reviewing the policy after it’s operated for six months or so, and see if there are any major improvements we can make - some of the limitations this time around was that two faculties do not presently use PGRs to teach at all and therefore kept attempting to reduce the protections provided by the policy as they felt it was now too “encumbering” were they to change their mind, and one faculty was vehemently against instituting a University-wide minimum wage due to their resource constraints which they said would only result in them having to avoid using PGR demonstrators, which would’ve ultimately been very damaging to these PGRs once they hit the job market and had no teaching experience.

We fully intend to sit down with the University and ensure other elements of the policy (such as the guidance notes) provide much stricter definitions on some elements as we did not win every battle when it came to authoring the policy but we feel what we have now is a great launchpad to continuously improve pay and conditions for PGR students.

I hope this makes it clear how seriously we are taking this issue, and reassures you insofar that the Union are continuing to lobby to improve the experience of PGR students who teach. If you'd like to discuss this any further, I'd urge you to get in touch with either Giles Howard (PGR Officer, pgrofficer@soton.ac.uk) or myself (VP Education, vpeducation@susu.org) and we'll do all we can to help out.

All the best,

Samuel Dedman (VP Education)

Students' Union replied on

Friday 4th Aug 2017 1:20pm


Thanks for getting in touch. This exact topic is something which the PGR Officer started work on last year, so I'll have a chat with him and get back to you regarding where we currently stand. 

All the best,

Samuel Dedman (VP Education)


  • Forwarded to Education

    Friday 4th Aug 2017 1:07pm


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