/ 2VCs on early career academics

This topic has been archived, and won't accept reply postings.
Offwidth - on 12 Aug 2017

https://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/2017/aug/09/2vcs-onhow-do-we-take-the-pressure-off-young-academics

Some pretty deluded stuff here. The consequencies of the difficulties of obtaining morgages, unless regarded as permanent staff, is hardly properly emphasised and on the inability to lead research bids we have to read between the lines. The idea they think 2 years makes you permanent in law is a sick joke, most of the case work I know of is in the range of 4+ years and one post doc I'm aware of was removed after 21 years of rolling contracts. They know full well the tribunal approach (usually the only way to fight unfair treatment) for a young exploited researcher is a massive risk and incredibly time consuming and stressful and hence highly disruptive to their career.

The brexit stuff rings true but maybe UK universities will need to work on nurturing talent a bit more rather than picking the best overseas stars (leaving talented post docs and teaching-only staff worrying about that endless looking search for the permanent job).

The arrogance of the UCL guy in the face of a motion of no confidence in his management beggars belief.

Poor journalism from the Guardian for not pinning them down better but I guess their fancy feature wouldn't function if they eviscerated VCs properly for their bad behaviour.
Post edited at 11:51
Offwidth - on 12 Aug 2017
paul__in_sheffield - on 12 Aug 2017
In reply to Offwidth:

I think given UCLs worldwide standing and place in the U.K. Hierarchy, a no confidence vote for Michael Arthur might be over egging the pudding ;-)

I'm not sure much has changed, I did 3 stints of research contracts as a post-doc before landing a junior lectureship, which was pretty much par for the course then. It's also worth bearing in mind that it's a big commitment to take researchers on to permanent contract before they have proven that they can develop and lead their own research, independently write high quality journal papers and most importantly write successful grant applications. All this stuff isn't necessarily in place immediately after PhD, and many never develop it. I've currently got around a dozen post docs on the books, all of whom would like permanent academic posts, but really there will only be a finite number on offer based on current research funding.
Having post docs on permanent contract would be an HR nightmare when inevitably there isn't enough funding to go around.
Offwidth - on 12 Aug 2017
In reply to paul__in_sheffield:

Unlike nearly every other western economy there is no academic tenure in the UK. If someone fails to perform on a permanent contract then performance proccesses are appropriate. The UK has the most target driven academic aseesment in the world so I just fail to see how your arguments apply. It looks dishonest and exploitative.
Dr.S at work - on 12 Aug 2017
In reply to Offwidth:

I'm sure people on permanent contracts could be sacked/disciplined - but this seems pretty rare and I've seen some amazing instances of incompetence going uncensored within UK academia. the university HR departments I've encountered seem pretty dysfunctional.
pneame on 12 Aug 2017
In reply to Offwidth:

UK science has always been run on a bizarre , impermanent, basis - in my area, the retirement of the head of Strangeways in Cambridge (John Dingle, I believe), resulted in rumors/the likelihood of it closing. The senior people who could have easily stepped into his shoes promptly bailed as fast as they could. Surprisingly, it still exists but was "redirected".

Of course, said senior folks may not have wanted to do administration. Quoting a friend of mine "don't go into administration. It will kill your career". Unless, of course, that's what you want to do. Our local place (a dismal university by any standard) got another quote, from a different friend, "Here, everyone has their own personal administrator. You just don't know who it is"

I think the idea is that UK science should only be done by those who are independently wealthy and can fund their own work.
Offwidth - on 12 Aug 2017
In reply to paul__in_sheffield:
On Micheal Arthur I see Universities like big ships. Its probably only evident what effect a VC had after they have gone and UCL was in a very good state when he arrived. Getting siver rated in TEF iis not at all good as that affects fee ambitions. My real point though is that the no confidence was on very specific issues of risk that he disnisses as poor communication. https://thetab.com/uk/london/2016/12/15/ucl-academics-call-vote-no-confidence-provost-27473
Post edited at 15:14
Offwidth - on 12 Aug 2017
In reply to Dr.S at work:
Thats a really dumb attitude. The law is clear that people employed for multiple contracts well over 2 years (as the 2 VC's acknowledge) should be made permanent except in exceptional specific circumstances (a phase designed to cover things like maternity leave but now rapidly becoming a norm for almost anything). As for dysfunction HR, maybe so at times but the priority then is to fix it before it damages you. The permanacy you portray is a myth: plenty of good people have been reorganised in Univesities (as an Engineer I've been lucky/unlucky enough to survive 7 Uni restructures in my career where some people on equivalent permanent jobs in my area had to go... mostly voluntary but not all and involving hardly anyone who was completely usless in their job).
Post edited at 15:17
Dr.S at work - on 12 Aug 2017
In reply to Offwidth:

It's not an attitude, it's an observation.
paul__in_sheffield - on 12 Aug 2017
In reply to Offwidth:

It's a really tricky one with ECRs. I've managed to get many of mine permanent posts over the years. However, the funding zeitgeist changes, you get a load of cash in that needs new skills etc. You also observe people who shouldn't be made permanent. HR are absolutely useless at supporting either redundancy or capability anywhere I've ever worked and distance themselves whenever there's anything difficult. The fixed term contract reflects both a changing funding environment and the necessity to remain reactive. Btw this isn't minimum wage, I've paid up to £70k per year for research profs on fixed term. It's often more than the equivalent in industry.
Offwidth - on 12 Aug 2017
In reply to paul__in_sheffield:

Nothing wrong with fixed term. Multiple renewals over more than 3 years is my issue and its way too common. The university nearly always ends up picking up some of the cost (very few post doc grants are properly fully costed) so responsibility is very much theirs as well as the grant holder. There are some fabulous examples out there of good treatment I've seen including policy of all post docs automatically made permanent under proper policy rules and things like significant shares in spin offs on top of salary.
Offwidth - on 12 Aug 2017
In reply to Dr.S at work:
The attitude bit didn't relate to you it's where research leaders use such conditions to give up on HR support and treat people illegally by renewing multiple times over more than 3 years; and HR don't monitor and stop it. I should have made that clearer and seperated off my observation about mainly good staff being made redundant in my teams.
Post edited at 19:29
Dr.S at work - on 12 Aug 2017
In reply to Offwidth:

no bother, what staggers me about the UK university sector is that it appears to perform well in international league tables etc, but internally individual institutions are very poorly managed.
Offwidth - on 13 Aug 2017
In reply to Dr.S at work:
Big ships full of dedicated people who regard their job as a lifetime vocation. I'm pretty sure if we dumped VCs for all but figurehead duties and ran a University with an Executive Dean level committee backed by a Senate they would actually do better. At some point, a University (probably a post 92 as they have much worse governance checks and balances) will go bankrupt through massively over ambitious growth plans. Some say London Met have been trying hard for a while but one of the most embarrasing possibilities is Coventry: the best rated institution in the UK on TEF (see table below) and starting to overstretch as a result. The UCL no confidence vote is based on a staff view the VC was overstretching and that he had messed up TEF (behind LSE and along with the likes of Durham in the second highest profile group of institutions in this pickle). Not many parents are aware of these metrics yet (luckily for them):

http://wonkhe.com/blogs/tef-results-the-full-core-metric-results/

Although these metrics are highly distorted from the reality of the average student experience, they do likely determine the level we can set our fees at, so silver and bronze is really bad news for otherwise highly ranked institutions.
Post edited at 11:54
wintertree - on 13 Aug 2017
In reply to Offwidth:

> At some point, a University (probably a post 92 as they have much worse governance checks and balances) will go bankrupt through massively over ambitious growth plans.

The institutions I have much awareness of are all embarking on strategic growth plans with budgets on the order of £1bn. Generally funded through borrowing and driven by reasoning that boils down to "size matters". The sizes of the various funding pots (HEFCE, research grants, student numbers) are pretty stagnant. So there are going to be winners and losers to this burst of massive growth.

If a VC does plough their particular institution into insolvency I imaging they'll negotiate their departure beforehand with an extra year's salary as severance....
Post edited at 13:36
Offwidth - on 13 Aug 2017
In reply to wintertree:
This is an example of VC's final year salary and severence package:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-nottinghamshire-31715298

Note the London Met VC is second in the list when leaving the chaos he helped create there.
Post edited at 13:43
David Martin - on 13 Aug 2017
In reply to Dr.S at work:

> I'm sure people on permanent contracts could be sacked/disciplined - but this seems pretty rare and I've seen some amazing instances of incompetence going uncensored within UK academia. the university HR departments I've encountered seem pretty dysfunctional.

Only seen two sacked in my lifetime, and they were cases of academics who had consistently turned up to class blind drunk for years, only finally getting removed after a step too far (which could have been prevented long before). Otherwise, incompetence in all aspects of higher education (academia and admin) seems almost universally tolerated.

In line with the current Google case, we've had post-docs and teaching fellows openly slagging off our institution on a global basis, spreading outright lies, with very little in the way of sanction.

Obviously each university will be different, but I've seen things tolerated that I would never have expected to see in a million years.
Coel Hellier - on 13 Aug 2017
In reply to Offwidth:

> The permanacy you portray is a myth: plenty of good people have been reorganised in Univesities (as an Engineer I've been lucky/unlucky enough to survive 7 Uni restructures in my career

I'm aware of cases where whole departments have been restructured, with people losing their jobs. But it seems relatively hard to sack individual lecturers for not being very good at their jobs.
David Martin - on 14 Aug 2017
In reply to Coel Hellier:

In my experience, its actually very difficult for departments to be "restructured" too. Restructurings that are proposed often seem to be instruments to bring about the removal of non-performing individuals, who the institution is unable to remove through other means.
David Martin - on 14 Aug 2017
In reply to Offwidth:

While HR departments are often weak, the 3+ year rule came to universities as a bit of a shock. Since we had never dealt with the requirement of "objective justifications" for fixed-term appointments, the sudden demand to retrospectively make teaching assistants permanent appeared insane; these were posts reserved for PhD students so they could obtain all-important teaching experience, usually for just a year or two. In some cases, especially in niche subjects, the odd PhD student had taught for four or more years. In other cases, in a desire to "re-deploy" staff who were reaching the ends of their fixed-term contracts, they were shoehorned in to other positions which contributed to their four+ years of service.

In nearly all such cases, limited teaching opportunities or courses with very uncertain ongoing demand/requirement for teaching assistants, were suddenly filled by PhD students who had been transferred on to permanent contracts. This deprived other students of any teaching experience, and courses that didn't require tutorial tutors retained them while budgets didn't stretch to courses that did need them.

There also appeared to be a distinct conflict between the requirement to re-deploy staff where possible and the requirement to make them permanent. Common sense seemed to go out the window with the way this was implemented, and the narrative fostered by our union amongst PhD students was that fixed-term contracts were simply wrong, and the school's use of them self-serving. The end result has been PhD student graduating with no teaching experience which they would otherwise have received.

I can see that staff intentionally kept on fixed-term contracts so they could be sacked with ease is a problem. But in an institution that sacks nobody, our fixed-term contracts ultimately made no difference. If there was work, you were kept on. If there was no work we sought to provide some, even if slightly outside of your subject areas.
Roadrunner5 - on 14 Aug 2017
In reply to paul__in_sheffield:
It's tough but we need to plan more. Either clearly outline few post docs stay in academia or take on less. I think many are sold a false idea.

I did 10 years post doc and then moved to the US. There's just too many biology post docs. I was offered two jobs, middle school science on $60k per year living with my wife or an Assistant Professorship in Georgia on less than 40k away from my wife who was in medschool. Many more I didn't apply to as it was similar. I adjuncted for a year after moving just for visa issues but that was a joke and there's little progression for those, it's basically a career dead end. I had short term visa issues so it worked out but it's basically exploitation and zero contracts, academia style.


David Martin - on 14 Aug 2017
In reply to Roadrunner5:

The problem may equally be to many PhDs sold as a route to get a job, when few relevant jobs exist or the 4-5 years out of the workforce makes you less, not more, employable.
Offwidth - on 14 Aug 2017
In reply to David Martin:

You're a very odd voice on the subject of Universities. I checked up on your SOAS allegations and no one recognised your portrayal even on the mangement side. UCU are indeed strong there, and a pain in the proverbial according to some, but the idea they have a stranglehold on management is regarded as plain ridiculous exaggeration. The breadth of experience you portray is really large to be making sweeping assertions about numbers sacked (very hard to work out); it make you sound like you worked at the highest level in central HR or the VCs office for a decade or so.

I've worked nationally in UCU (and AUT and AUCL before) as a moderate to help try and ensure the union supports 'normal' members better and to hold against SWP influence (currently still active in UCU through UCU Left) and have many friends in University management across the UK from VCs downwards. UCU (and sometimes management contacts) share information on threats as there is usually no public way of finding out about the iceberg of cases under the public waterline. This includes threats of department closures, departments actually closed or merged with redundancies (many in STEM from the 1990s), direct dismisals (disciplinary reasons etc: rare in the old days but now normally a few a year on average institutionally), almost certain illegal use of dismissal in fixed term contracts (mostly 4+ years in the same post doc job renewed at least 3 times: these occur in in vast numbers across the sector, at least of the order of a thousand annually), then we have people signing gagging clauses and agreeing to leave with a pay off, without being sacked (very hard to measure but at least of the order of a thousand a year, costing tens of millions annually across the sector... see the guardian link below) and those who leave in protest with the option of tribunal (most often not followed, as it's a major amount of extra work and stress and most of those who try to go the tribunal route end up agreeing a good settlement before the tribunal starts and the case goes on public record... adding to the gagged list).

https://www.theguardian.com/education/2016/dec/30/universities-gagging-former-employees-lib-dems-com...

In my personal case work (thousands over 30 years in a good post 92), I've dealt with hundreds initially labelled in some way as involving incompetance: in practice only a handful really were, and they were so obvious in my view they were interviewed by managers incompetant in appointments (usually suspiciously golden CVs overcoming common sense). Other reasons in approximate declining numbers were: a mix of the following problems; plain childish slander; clashes around workloads where both sides usually had a case but the member was far from incompetant; health or family issues dealt with improperly (sometimes the members fault) where things usually much improved once OH or support services were involved; overworked staff required to meet almost impossible targets, sometime even retrospectively; simple misunderstandings; improper fixed attitudes from management or members (majority on the members side). Incidently, I think those with the hardest jobs and treated the worst in the new managerialist cultures are middle management in post 92s (ie those above the negotiating group) this includes most Profs and Heads and Associate Deans; often with near impossible worloads in very complex structures and too often with little or no training. This also sometimes includes Deans if they are not at Executive level.

https://www.theguardian.com/education/2016/dec/30/universities-gagging-former-employees-lib-dems-com...

I've said before here that I think UK academia is sleepwalking in to a disastrous loss of academic freedom. The changes I've seen since I started in the mid 80s are huge and very worrying. UCU for all its faults, including the insidious influence of the SWP in some branches and regions, are one of the few bodies left fighting against this (alongside a few disperate groups like CAFAS, CIVITAS, AFAF). I believe in good management following best research practice but see too little of it. Too many of the mistakes would be familiar to Drucker from when management science started up.
Coel Hellier - on 14 Aug 2017
In reply to Roadrunner5:

> Either clearly outline few post docs stay in academia or take on less. I think many are sold a false idea.

I think that it is clearly outlined that only a minority of PhDs and postdocs will be in academia long term, it is not so much that they are falsely promised, so much as that many of them are unrealistic about the chances of themselves being one of the minority.

I've several times had career-advice talks with just-finishing PhDs or first-term postdocs where they've said that their career aspirations are in academia, when it should be obvious to them that they're not competitive with others in the field at a similar career stage.

After all, lead-author papers and citations to them are easy to count. Blunt message: "If others in your field and at a similar career stage are doing obviously better on such stats then you're highly unlikely to be one of the minority which ends up with a permanent academic post, and realising that now might be a good idea. If you want to continue chasing your dream then that's up to you, but don't then complain that you're being exploited. Of course you're being exploited! And you are a willing participant."
Offwidth - on 14 Aug 2017
In reply to Coel Hellier:

A willing participant in following the possibiliy of an academic dream job and once in the 3+ scenario normally in breach of law (and usually without your harsh but fair advice: some research leaders are so desperate for their post docs to stay they encourage the 'fantasy'). What a great system that is.

Worse still, the near million scheduled teaching sessions delivered each year on variants of zero hour contracts (where in theory in law the person due to deliver need not even turn up) to students paying fees and building huge debts. I feel shamed by this behaviour of UK Universities, supposedly pillars of truth, and I'm surprised if you are not. In the meantime we have armies of senior staff (subtracting the higher paid research profs and consultant medics) earning over 100k a year ... heading fast towards an average of 100 per institution.
ads.ukclimbing.com
David Martin - on 14 Aug 2017
In reply to Offwidth:

> You're a very odd voice on the subject of Universities. I checked up on your SOAS allegations and no one recognised your portrayal even on the mangement side.

The views I've espoused on the place were widely shared, and raised to me without any need for prompting - so hardly fishing for negative views on the union stranglehold. I suspect the version of the institution's circumstances you are presented might more reflect the circles your contacts keep. It is a rabidly left-wing university so open-season on any policy or viewpoint that could be charged as not toeing that party line. Such are the factions the situation there creates.

There were no shortages of egregious examples of outright incompetence. I obviously can't go in to specifics, but having worked for (in reality doing their job) one long-serving example, known by every Dean we had, every line-manager, and pretty much every staff member below them, to not only be incompetent but to be outright belligerent and obstructive, causing frictions (filing grievances and declaring work-to-rules) wherever they went while failing to undertake tasks resembling even a part-time workload or of someone several pay grades below their level, and clearly identified as a waste-of-space by external consultant who also tacitly acknowledged the only likely way to fix the situation given union truculence was to instigate a restructure. Unsurprising this same individual sat at lunch each day with our union head and had a post in the union hierarchy....and if they really had the interests of equality and diversity in their hearts, all the more intriguing that the saw fit to pass me the interview questions before I joined their team (seemingly not an unusual ploy to obtain loyalty and prevent whistle-blowing). Add in the drunks, the absentees, and the "15-students-a-year, 5-hours-a-week, no PhD supervisions...but my workload is excessive"s....
In our case, the union acted like a protection racket.

> I've said before here that I think UK academia is sleepwalking in to a disastrous loss of academic freedom.

Quite possibly. And govt policy or a focus on measures and targets may be a contributing factor. It might also be worth looking at where blame lies internally as well - the insistence on accountability isn't just some vindictive attempt to reform HE but may just be a recognition that there are behaviors in the sector that shouldn't be tolerated, whether publicly or privately funded.

Doug on 14 Aug 2017
In reply to David Martin:

I always remember the chat after my PhD viva when my external examiner asked me what I was going to do next, half jokingly saying the only UK job I was qualified for was his, and adding he wasn't retiring just yet. In the end I went to France.
MG - on 14 Aug 2017
In reply to Offwidth:
> A willing participant in following the possibiliy of an academic dream job

The PhD>postdoc> academic route is a pretty broad based pyramid so it's inevitable there will be those who don't get to an academic post. The problem, perhaps, is the perception that not doing so is a failure, both within and external to academia. In reality there are many jobs outside academia PhDs and (perhaps to sightly lesser extent) Postdocs will be competitive for.
Post edited at 11:06
Coel Hellier - on 14 Aug 2017
In reply to Offwidth:

> I feel shamed by this behaviour of UK Universities, supposedly pillars of truth, and I'm surprised if you are not.

Well our department doesn't use armies of zero-hours-contract people, nearly all our timetabled sessions are led by a permanent-contract academic. Who does the actual teaching is one thing that might now be focused on given the arrival of the TEF. Some Russell Group universities may have to pay a lot more attention to this.
MG - on 14 Aug 2017
In reply to Coel Hellier:

> Well our department doesn't use armies of zero-hours-contract people,

I do find Offwidth's experience odd. I've worked in five UK universities (soon to be six) in various capacities and in none has the teaching been led by "armies of zero-hours-contract people". Quite the contrary. The only way this could possibly be seen as true is where PhD students do demonstrating and such like on an ad-hoc basis. Probably technically zero-hour contracts and there tend to be a lot of them doing a few hours each, so maybe that makes an army? But this works well for everyone.
Doug on 14 Aug 2017
In reply to MG:

There are also many 'semi-academic' posts, either as consultants in industry or in government agencies (at least in the sciences, maybe different in other subjects ). I would never have got my present post without a background in plant ecology only really possible via research but I'm not in a university. But I do publish scientific papers and attend the occasional conference (although I don't have the pressure of 'publish or perish' of my colleagues in university posts) so my job has many features of academia & although maybe not what I had in mind some 25 years ago, I'm quite happy with where I've ended up.
David Martin - on 14 Aug 2017
In reply to MG:

> In reality there are many jobs outside academia PhDs and (perhaps to sightly lesser extent) Postdocs will be competitive for.

That's clearly true. But having followed a UG-PG-PGR trajectory for what will have likely amounted to a decade, its understandable that academia (sticking with what you know) might be a particularly attractive option for graduates.

A greater problem might be that PhD students underestimate the damage done, not only by the length of time spent outside of the workforce, but of being so singularly focused on what are often very specific areas of research. An ability to dissect vast amounts of literature and formulate arguments is obviously good. Being somewhat removed from the rest of the world for a 4-5 year stretch (on top of the time already spent in the academic bubble) can produce a rather isolated individual.
Offwidth - on 14 Aug 2017
MG

How would you know what going on outside your departments or even inside if the work doesn't overlap with yours?

Here are some big picture views:

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/nov/16/universities-accused-of-importing-sports-direct-mode...

https://www.ucu.org.uk/6749

http://helpmeinvestigate.com/welfare/teachers-at-top-universities-on-zero-hour-contracts
MG - on 14 Aug 2017
In reply to Offwidth:

As above, I suspect many of those posts are PhDs or similar doing ad hoc stuff. In one case in the UCU link I know that is the case. Your links are obviously political and looking to paint a negative picture. I'm sure there are abuses but not to anything like the extent you suggest in my experience.
Roadrunner5 - on 14 Aug 2017
In reply to MG:
> I do find Offwidth's experience odd. I've worked in five UK universities (soon to be six) in various capacities and in none has the teaching been led by "armies of zero-hours-contract people". Quite the contrary. The only way this could possibly be seen as true is where PhD students do demonstrating and such like on an ad-hoc basis. Probably technically zero-hour contracts and there tend to be a lot of them doing a few hours each, so maybe that makes an army? But this works well for everyone.

They are getting more and more common.

In the US it is the norm. In the U.K. It was more typical for say vets to provide a block off lectures, or anNHS epidemiologist, experts in a specific field. But in the US many first year modules like Bio1 are delivered by adjuncts.

Now students are paying and student numbers are less predictable they make a lot of sense. I didn't know if I had an actual paid job until the first day of that module each year.

It suited me but I knew it was short term due to my visa and wife in Med school so another big move was imminent.

With universities increasingly struggling adjuncts will get more common in the UK. They make a lot of sense on the universities side.
Post edited at 13:14
Offwidth - on 14 Aug 2017
In reply to MG:

What is your experience though?. Did you ever worked with those timetable classes for a team and talk across teams? There are about 150 HEIs and if each has an average of 200 staff on such contracts working over 30 hours a year that's a million. I work in a big post 92 with better than average conditions and we exceed those numbers by a large margin and in my team most ZHC's are for external staff (our PhD students involved in teaching are a declining minority as they require HEA training now). What you call politics I call information based on FOi's used for good political means.
MG - on 14 Aug 2017
In reply to Offwidth:

> What is your experience though?. Did you ever worked with those timetable classes for a team and talk across teams?

As above, pretty broad. Had overall responsibility for delivery of multiple degrees, UG and PG, and external examining. In that, all lectures were either delivered by permanent academics or sometimes (~10% of lectures) external lecturers paid a negotiatied fee. Tutorials etc by PhDs with academics in attendance. Engineering. I do see a move towards teaching only staff, which I am dubious about, but contracts still seem reasonable - sometimes fixed term but normally permanent.

MG - on 14 Aug 2017
In reply to Roadrunner5:

I don't really know what you mean by "adjunct". If you mean visiting lecturer or similar, I don't see much change. Mostly those used offer industry insight or similar not perhaps available from academic staff and it works for them too (CPD etc).
Offwidth - on 14 Aug 2017
In reply to MG:

A million ZHC sessions across the UK is well below 10% of the total hours delivered across the sector. A typical undergraduate bachelors engineering course with around a hundred students, split labs and reasonable options will have getting on for 4000 hours nominal class contact delivery every year (nominal due to major project staff time allocations) and 10% of that is over average for a team on my figures. Your own numbers clearly contradict your broader assertions.
David Martin - on 14 Aug 2017
In reply to Offwidth:

What exactly were the circumstances in the cited links?

We typically had two sorts of staff who could fall in to those categories: Teaching Assistants (or whatever moniker they went under in a given year) and Senior/Teaching Fellows.

Teaching Assistants would be paid an hourly rate, around £45 for each tutorial group taught. As class sizes were unclear, even after the first week of teaching (as we allow students so much flexibility to change courses), it was impossible to guarantee these teachers their hours. They weren't strictly on zero-hours contracts (which would have been far easier and more honest to administer), but given maybe one or two hours a week, with that number increased or decreased according to demand - and trying to give as many a teaching opportunity as possible.

The Senior Teaching Fellows were on something like £70 or £80 and hour and their role was to teach for someone on maternity/research or other types of leave, normally for just 1-3 years. As they were lecturing their hours were slightly more predictable, but still not entirely so - if less than 5 students were recruited on to a course, the course wasn't technically viable, though usually still continued.

I only skim read the links, but they imply that these zero-hours or low salary contracts are being given to full-time, reseearch active, admin and teaching assigned lecturers. That completely miss-represents what is happening. They are given to people to teach specific tutorials or lectures, nothing more. At least at our institution. The individual being handed £6,000 a year is likely being asked to deliver 40 to 60 hours of classes (possibly far less) for the year. Obviously that requires work outside of those actual hours. But I think you need to look a little closer at the detail before deciding that, what is on the face of it, it is grossly unfair.
MG - on 14 Aug 2017
In reply to Offwidth:

Sorry don't understand what you are saying there. 10% was my estimate of the proportion of lectures given by external (i.e non academic) people.
Roadrunner5 - on 14 Aug 2017
In reply to MG:
Yeah adjuncts are part time lecturers. Like visiting professors but Typically post doctoral positions with other part time positions. We get paid about 5-10k per semester. I think I was on 1.5-2k per credit and it was a 4 credit module.

I did 2 semesters, sub taught in schools and coached track and XC at Penn State and made peanuts..


MG - on 14 Aug 2017
In reply to David Martin:

Pretty much exactly my experience. Making out teaching assistants are exploited on ZHC is dishonest in my view.
Offwidth - on 14 Aug 2017
In reply to David Martin:
These contracts have really exploded in the last decade to be pretty much ubiquitous in most institutions for anyone not on permanent or fixed term contracts. The pay rates are almost the same rates as the old contracts (sometimes less the adjustment required on standard part-time contracts for leave) but usually they lack any sick pay, many of the previous protections including notice and rights to assimilation, and up front planning is much poorer; and so legally they are nearly always what is know as a ZHC, whatever spin the local HR put on it. There are only a few examples like visiting lectures of a few hours max duration (common in art and design) where I can see a ZHC as being OK for the lecturer. I see no reasonable justification for any weekly timetabled class to be on such a contract.

Another 'political' link detailing what can happen in the same city:

https://www.theguardian.com/education/2001/mar/06/highereducation.uk3

Rates are sometimes available online (sometime in actual pay per hour of class contact others for pay per hour using the local multiplier others in equivalent pay per year ... usually proper University teaching with prep and marking is on NFA spine point 31 adjusted to include an allowance for annual leave) eg:

http://www.bristol.ac.uk/hr/hpt/hpt-payrates.html
https://www.dur.ac.uk/hr/payandreward/payscale/hourlyacad/
http://www.dmu.ac.uk/documents/dmu-staff/pod/people-management-handbook/working-for-dmu/pay-and-bene...

The rates you quote are very good indeed but seem to miss demonstrator rates and they don't seem to match the SOAS calculator: https://www.soas.ac.uk/hr/fractional-teachers/fractional-pay-pensions/

All these pay rates look very good until you factor in prep time and marking, additional travel time, and the need to juggle several of these jobs if its your only income. Most PhD students end up on demonstrator contracts which is maybe reasonable where minimal preparation and no marking is required but even there too many are told they need to prepare and mark (so should be on full teaching ZHC's). Class contact limits in most post 92's institutions for full time permanent staff are normally less than 18 per week and less than 550 a year in total if staff ONLY teach (that's by contract).
Post edited at 14:47
Offwidth - on 14 Aug 2017
In reply to MG:

It seems to me you don't want to understand. The FOI data shows what I'm saying is roughly true across the sector. The average institution only needs the numbers I gave above to get to a million hours a year across the sector. In an engineering department with say 1/20th of the average University ZHC usage that would amount to roughly 300 hours class contact time in total delivered annually for all demonstrators, visiting lecturers and other staff on ZHC style contracts. In my team our PhD students deliver much more than that alone they are the minority on our use of such contracts and our contract situation is much better than average for a post 92.
David Martin - on 14 Aug 2017
In reply to Offwidth:

> The rates you quote are very good indeed but seem to miss demonstrator rates and they don't seem to match the SOAS calculator: https://www.soas.ac.uk/hr/fractional-teachers/fractional-pay-pensions/

No, the figures I gave are more or less correct. Assume a G7 salary is £33k. Divide that by 1524 contracted hours in the year and you have the "plain-time" rate, which you then multiply by 3x (in the case of G7) or 2.5x (in the case of G6) and you have the hourly rate for tutorials/lectures. There is then a myriad of additional plain-time for all kinds of other duties. Believe me, I fought tooth and nail for a simplification of this multiplier system (which I probably wouldn't have proposed in the first place): either include everything in the multiplier and increase it, or just pay everything on a timesheet basis as plain-time. Instead, due to ongoing Union-HR wrangling, they have settled on the most complicated and probably least accurate system they could find (I rest my case about SOAS) with a long list of additional payments, and an equally long list of stuff that is included in the multiplier.

> All these pay rates look very good until you factor in prep time and marking, additional travel time, and the need to juggle several of these jobs if its your only income.

Unfortunately it is nigh on impossible to devise a system which does this properly. Do you factor in that the first time someone teaches a course they will require far more prep than the returning Emeritus Professor? THe problem is, everyone wants their own personal circumstances (speed, thoroughness, etc) taken in to account and in pandering to everyone's desires the system just becomes every less egalitarian.

> Class contact limits in most post 92's institutions for full time permanent staff are normally less than 18 per week and less than 550 a year in total if staff ONLY teach (that's by contract).

I can think of few people who would have taught half of that.

MG - on 14 Aug 2017
In reply to Offwidth:

In am disputing the claim that "armies of ZHC" workers (admittedly Coel's term) are delivering teaching at universities . Are you now agreeing? Your links had numbers of 40% and up which aren't credible in my experience, unless seriously twisted. Further those who are on ZHC or similar (external lecturers, PhDs) seem pretty happy in my experience.

In fact in one institution that insisted after the sort of UCU headline you linked that ZHC were no longer allowed, the result was chaos. For reasons David outlined, it was impossible to say exactly what hours were available in advance, so no contracts agreed, so demonstrators were not paid for months and were righty pissed off. And all massive admin headache too for everyone.
David Martin - on 14 Aug 2017
In reply to Offwidth:

> These contracts have really exploded in the last decade to be pretty much ubiquitous in most institutions for anyone not on permanent or fixed term contracts.

Is it possible that (short of receiving a British Academy grant) the idea of giving a replacement lecturer a full salary is absurd? Or, as we used to do, plucking some random FTE (0.5 or 0.2 usually) out of the air to quantify their contract (in the case of convenors) or paying a simple hourly rate with no benefits that more or less paralleled the current contact-hour (multiplier inclusive) rate. The present system, as imperfect as it is, at least attempts to apply some metric to what is being undertaken. I'm no supporter of it, but it is senior academics themselves (maybe driven by budget pressures, maybe not) who are proposing and agreeing to these numbers.

Ours have had all the advantages of permanent contracts (i.e. sick pay, etc) for years now. I don't think there was ever an aim not to give them these advantages. Rather there has just been an evolution away from paying hourly rates to paying fractions-of-a-full-contract rates, and including all associated benefits with that.

I could never speak for SOAS on such a matter, but it may be worth considering "HR" staff, when poor, can range from willingly brutal and cut-throat to simply rather incompetent. There isn't always a grander motive in what looks to UCU like a classic case of class warfare.

> There are only a few examples like visiting lectures of a few hours max duration (common in art and design) where I can see a ZHC as being OK for the lecturer. I see no reasonable justification for any weekly timetabled class to be on such a contract.

I would struggle to see where a similar judgment could have been reached regarding our staff. Moreover, with research leave (funded) and sabbatical leave (every few years) being so hugely generous compared to just about any other professional field, I fail to see how universities can reasonably demand funding for their full-time academic staff AND a replacement on a full contract to be bought in every 3-4 years as well when that staff member gets half the year off paid.

While academics may feel under the thumb, and in some cases they are, anyone casually comparing their teaching and leave arrangements to the outside world is going to be hard pushed to be sympathetic.
Offwidth - on 14 Aug 2017
In reply to David Martin:

My point was SOAS have more rates than you quote and you're missing the demonstrator rates in particular and I'm guessing the bulk of such contacts will be on the lower grades.

The 'devised system' is fine by me. What I'm fighting for is to pay the right rate for the role, take all the regularly scheduled contracts off ZHC status and so pay sick pay, give proper notice of termination, plan most teaching at the same time as for other staff and move staff over 100 hours pro-rata onto fractional contracts (if they want this) as a contractual norm.

The full time permanent numbers I quoted are standard for a post 92 and I regularly deal with a small number of outlier cases that exceed norms by 20%. SOAS contracts work differently and research pressures are much higher.

Of course given your alleged " UCU stranglehold " SOAS are doomed in the next REF alongside their TEF bronze, as management can't under such conditions hold any responsibility for such failings. In reality your portrayal of SOAS from the perspective of my local managerial friends, who really dislike most London region UCU activists, sadly look like ranting. They don't deny the branch is hard work but they say a stranglehold description is plain ridiculous.
David Martin - on 14 Aug 2017
In reply to MG:

> Your links had numbers of 40% and up which aren't credible in my experience, unless seriously twisted.

My suspicion is that they are talking tutorial (maybe termed seminars at other institutions) hours. Assuming a 1-2 hour lecture for 45 students is then broken down in to 3x 1-2 hour tutorial groups each of 15 students, all delivered by PhD students on something resembling a zero-hour contract, then the 40% is possibly accurate.

But it is a misrepresentation of university teaching; the courses offered are being devised and administered (i.e. "convened") by the individual taking the lecture. The lecture, for all its lack of intimacy and flaws as a means to deliver information, is the core of the course and where specific expertise is required. The follow on tutorials are simply "discussion groups" and are "facilitated" by the PhD student tutors - who sometimes seem to forget that at this point in their academic career they are no more formally qualified than someone holding a masters degree. Critics are welcome to dissect that system, but as much as value is placed on the two-way tutorial, by their own admission often the tutor has little or no expertise in the field discussed and is there only to facilitate and direct discussion (and gain "teaching" experience for their CV). erience.

> For reasons David outlined, it was impossible to say exactly what hours were available in advance, so no contracts agreed, so demonstrators were not paid for months and were righty pissed off. And all massive admin headache too for everyone.

This was a regular occurrence in our institution. The more we were straight-jacketed by attempts to formalise working conditions the more unpredictable and chaotic it became. The failure to see the work for what it was, both by the union and by some of the tutors, was frustrating and stymied progress to fixing actual inqualities.

ads.ukclimbing.com
MG - on 14 Aug 2017
In reply to David Martin:

Exactly. Although "tutorials" are a bit different in engineering.

If there is a problem with the rate of pay for PhDs etc, the solution is to pay a bit more, not to move to some massively complex full contract system.

David Martin - on 14 Aug 2017
In reply to Offwidth:

> My point was SOAS have more rates than you quote and you're missing the demonstrator rates in particular and I'm guessing the bulk of such contacts will be on the lower grades.

If we're talking pay grades, there are only two used in this area - G6 (tutorials) and G7 (convening). Only in exceptional and rare circumstances was anyone given a pay grade outside of this and required a lengthely evaluation process to do so (usually assigned to lawyers seconded to the law department who, proverbially, "wouldn't get out of bed for £75/hour). No one in a teaching role was paid at less than the G6/spinal point 22 salary rate and even then they would only be paid at that if still a current PhD student and teaching only tutorial classes. "Lecturers" would almost certainly be on a G7/sp.30 level.

> The 'devised system' is fine by me. What I'm fighting for is to pay the right rate for the role, take all the regularly scheduled contracts off ZHC status and so pay sick pay, give proper notice of termination, plan most teaching at the same time as for other staff and move staff over 100 hours pro-rata onto fractional contracts (if they want this) as a contractual norm.

Can you explain this further? Granted, your conditions may have been different from our own, but I struggle to see how this could possibly work at an institution like SOAS. Even though we don't technically have ZHCs anyway, the contracts issued are barely worth the paper they are written on when it comes to the likelihood of the assigned hours being accurate. As an example, contracts are issued and then varied through a subsquent variation of contract letter. The number of variation of contracts we issued was, at a guess, probably 2-3 times the number of contracts issued. And every time someone missed/added an hour, of teaching, further variations were required. The system was unworkable and was so onerous to administer that staff frequently went unpaid/underpaid/overpaid as a result.

> The full time permanent numbers I quoted are standard for a post 92 and I regularly deal with a small number of outlier cases that exceed norms by 20%. SOAS contracts work differently and research pressures are much higher.

I think this is one of the problems. Academics at other institutions may have reasonable grounds to complain about over-teaching, as surgeons may have a right to complain about overwork. At my institution, the complaint about workloads seemed to stem from a "we're all in it together" attitude where the struggles of doctors or academics at institutions like your own were conflated in to our own experiences to make a complaint about our working conditions (to the point that admin staff felt entitled to complain because academics complained, and as we're all in the same university, we must all be overworked)


> Of course given your alleged " UCU stranglehold " SOAS are doomed in the next REF alongside their TEF bronze, as management can't under such conditions hold any responsibility for such failings. In reality your portrayal of SOAS from the perspective of my local managerial friends, who really dislike most London region UCU activists, sadly look like ranting. They don't deny the branch is hard work but they say a stranglehold description is plain ridiculous.

I certainly knew some very fine people in UCU. But they were so rare in their even-handedness and apparent desire to find accommodation and agreement that talking to them was almost sureal and refreshing. The norm seemed to belong to an "it's just not fair" brigade who appeared to equate their own experience to that of coal mine workers or employees faced with stresses of life-and-death decisions. The union had the ability to shut the school down on a whim and frequently exercised it. I think "strangle-hold" is no over-statement.
David Martin - on 14 Aug 2017
In reply to David Martin:

> Of course given your alleged " UCU stranglehold " SOAS are doomed in the next REF alongside their TEF bronze, as management can't under such conditions hold any responsibility for such failings. In reality your portrayal of SOAS from the perspective of my local managerial friends, who really dislike most London region UCU activists, sadly look like ranting. They don't deny the branch is hard work but they say a stranglehold description is plain ridiculous.

Further to this, while I may rant, I can happily and categorically state there were a great many academics I worked with who were nothing but consumate professionals and who dedicated far more time than they should to their tasks.

Unfortunately, their "task" was made inordinately harder by the fact that a far-too-large number of their fellow academics (and administrators) were not coming close to pulling their weight or habitually creating petty problems that should not have seen the light of day.

The spirit of solidarity, the fostering of a victim mentality, and an emphasis on a management V worker schism, driven by UNISON/UCU did no favours at all the overworked and diligent academics while providing a perfect cover for those willing to take the piss.
Offwidth - on 14 Aug 2017
In reply to MG:

In those links, all based on real data, irrespective of the politics, anything around 40% will (if you read them carefully) have included all non standard contracts, including all fixed term contract staff as well as ZHCs. You disputed my figues on ZHC prevalence using Coel's terminology and seem now to be avoiding the subject of their accuracy. My figure was of the order of a millon hours across the HEI sector annually with the vast majority on weekly scheduled classes, which is pretty obviously exploitation and would really piss off most students in those classes if they knew. From what you said it sounds like your example department won't be so far from the roughly 300 hours a year average required to achieve that million.
Offwidth - on 14 Aug 2017
In reply to David Martin:
I agree with much of your last rant on the behaviour of some TU internal groups (certainly anything SWP aligned) but thats not the same as a 'stranglehold'. I thought it a daft exaggeration at the time and went to the effort to check, it was so worrying to my academic politics. You do yourself no favours making such statements.

If you really don't have any demonstrator rates, for things like PhD students doing tutorial assistance, thats highly unusual. If so, re-reading the SOAS link I was probably distracted by the internally linked general pay scale. Your part time teaching rate at the higher grade is very generous for the sector.

On the further explantion point your systems seem very complicated: in most institutions both sides accept things will change from time to time and processes to deal with it are easier (but need budget sign off on the final claim) . My real concern is getting part-time scheduled teaching back on old style part-time teaching contracts (with their much better protections) and not paying demonstrator rates for part time teaching involving signifcant prep and marking.
Post edited at 17:48
MG - on 14 Aug 2017
In reply to Offwidth:

> In those links, all based on real data, irrespective of the politics, anything around 40% will (if you read them carefully) have included all non standard contracts, including all fixed term contract staff as well as ZHCs. You disputed my figues on ZHC prevalence using Coel's terminology and seem now to be avoiding the subject of their accuracy.

We seem to have established that the number of ZHC contracts may be 40%, but also that this is totally different to the proportion of teaching delivered being by ZHC being 40%. I did say this in my first post "The only way this could possibly be seen as true is where PhD students do demonstrating and such like on an ad-hoc basis." The articles you link clearly set out to imply the latter is the case .e.g."One of the most highly skilled and prestigious professions in Britain, university teaching, is now dominated by zero-hours contracts", which is cobblers.


> My figure was of the order of a millon hours across the HEI sector annually with the vast majority on weekly scheduled classes, which is pretty obviously exploitation

Except its not. It's perfectly sensible for all the reasons above.

> and would really piss off most students in those classes if they knew

It really wouldn't


Offwidth - on 15 Aug 2017
In reply to MG:
Frankly I'm amaazed how thick skinned you are on this. 40%+ of contracts in a top ranked University is huge and to describe this as ad hoc and/or neccesary is breathtaking. I see that quote as perfectly reasonable if more than 50% of staff happen to be on such contracts. The point is that many such institutions that are significantly based on taxpayers money and otherwise people who are paying large sums to study, is an exploitative employer. One who feels the need to save the trivial amounts of extra money involved in going back to the old style part time contracts (and often ignoring any training) and prepared to ignore the law that says multiple renewed fixed term contracts over 3 years should be made permanent.

I've talked to my engineering and tech students many times about this and the majority have never not been shocked that their institution offers ZHC contracts for scheduled classes and illegal mutiple rolling contracts for some of their post doc staff. So your students must very different to mine. As a liberal minded chap I'd have been marching around with placards if I were still a student. I'm not complaining too much about where I work as (unlike you) they recognise they have a problem at a much lower level of such contracts, and see the need for some training and are working seriously on things.
Post edited at 10:15
MG - on 15 Aug 2017
In reply to Offwidth:
> Frankly I'm amaazed how thick skinned you are on this. 40%+ of contracts in a top ranked University is huge and to describe this as ad hoc and/or neccesary is breathtaking

As an example, I teach a large class and have six postgrads supporting me for about 3-5hrs/week each. They get paid £x/hr. By your account this means 85% of teaching is on ZHC exploitative contracts. In practice this is an effective, entirely reasonable set up where the teaching is essentially entirely provided by an academic on a full time permanent contract and the PhDs are happy getting a good rate paid on time. The fact some weeks they work 3hrs and others 5hr is of no consequence. They really don't want some complex system where they get 0.321hrs holiday pay and pence paid to a pension plan.
Post edited at 10:36
Greenbanks - on 15 Aug 2017
In reply to Offwidth:

About 5 years ago, as an external examiner to an M-level course in a 'respected' (Russell) university, I was shocked to discover that an entire cohort of students had been taught a full module (30 credits) by 2 Year 3 f-t PhD students, with only modest oversight by a contracted member of the academic staff. My representations to the university were 'taken on board' (though as it was my final year of the appointment I failed to discover what the outcome of this was). That it arose in the first place is deeply depressing, indicative of a prevailing of students as units of currency. Killing the golden goose that is/was UK higher education.
Offwidth - on 15 Aug 2017
In reply to MG:
Yes exploitative, as I'm sure they would be happier still if they got paid if they were unlucky enough to get ill on the day and if the University stopped pretending they have the flexibility for them not to turn up at all. The old non-exploitative part-time hourly contracts had such benefits and no difference at all in practice to the PhD student in how they were paid (excepting that protections were stronger on rates of pay). If you can't see such things are good for PhD students when doing paid teaching I really feel for your empathy deficit.

On the pointless pensions issue I was lucky enough to start on a 6 hours a week fixed term 3 year demonstrator contract as part of my paid PhD and I can assure you I'm really greatful now I have those years extra on my pension (worth 10% extra on my pensionable salary). I thought such a route into lecturing (a high autonomy lifetime vocation, as I naively thought) was a risk worth taking despite the huge amounts of hard work and risk required for entry, and as an alternative to the much better paid consultancy company job I was headhunted for as a published electronic materials scientist with 20 months relevant industrial experience at Plessey despite being a fresh graduate from Uni.

Look around now and see how many British Engineering PhD students there are to fill the yawning academic employment gap Brexit might leave. Our Universities forgot they might need better incentives to encourage people into the profession some day.
Post edited at 11:17
MG - on 15 Aug 2017
In reply to Greenbanks:

That does sound genuinely rubbish. Which subject out of interest?
Offwidth - on 15 Aug 2017
In reply to MG:
Rubbish!?... there you go again.. a word used normally used something trivial and annoying. I guess its not really serious as the students don't care what contract the person teaching them has in your opinion.
Post edited at 11:29
1
MG - on 15 Aug 2017
In reply to Offwidth:
Your 6hrs a week for three years got your 10% of you pension!?

TBH I don't get why you remain in academia. You obviously think everything about it is appalling. Personally I have found your "a high autonomy lifetime vocation," is very much what I have. I can move time around, post here, largely choose the focus of my work, and have the satisfaction of working with loads of highly capable, motivated people who similarly enjoy the environment. (Sorry, miserable, exploited, serfs who hate every minute of it). As long as my teaching is well-received, I publish and bring in sufficient money, I am left alone.
Post edited at 11:30
MG - on 15 Aug 2017
In reply to Offwidth:

> Rubbish!?... there you go again..

?? I condemn something and you still disagree!
Offwidth - on 15 Aug 2017
In reply to MG:

You think "genuine rubbish" are words to use to "condemn" something where the University is in breach of its CAR and its contract with its students. You must be trolling.
David Martin - on 15 Aug 2017
In reply to MG:
> They really don't want some complex system where they get 0.321hrs holiday pay and pence paid to a pension plan.

That was one of the absurdities we encountered. Such a dogged fight to secure pension and holiday rights which at the end of the day entitled the recipient to virtually nothing due to their FTE being so low anyway.

While extra years of pension contributions is (for how much longer I don't know) a benefit, most PhD students seemed far more aggrieved to find, when they received their first salary payment, that it was substantially less than they anticipated..."yes, that is because you have had pension contributions deducted and because you have to specifically opt-out rather than opt-in to the scheme...sorry you didn't notice that fine print....and don't worry Vladamir/Afua/Xue/Ketsuko, you'll receive it back when you turn 65". On a £1,200 a year contract, these kinds of deductions were an incredibly unwelcome sting.

And then we had to contend with the resulting idiocy.

For example, we were required to give "time allocated within a contract for holidays to be taken". So despite PhD student X being on a 0.000001 FTE for his 6 months of teaching 1 hour a week, an extra month had to be tagged on to his contract so that he could take his accumulated 23.5 minutes of holiday allowance....because obviously there was no window for X to take that 23.5 minutes during the preceding 6 months.
If that wasn't enough, for either HR or Payroll reasons we could only issue contracts for specific periods of time (as I recall, 4, 7 or 12 month durations). This often meant that someone teaching for just a few short months in the year had to be issued a contract which spread their already tiny monthly payments over a far longer (sometimes double the length) period.
Not to forget, having to ask each employee at the end of their contract "HR needs to know if you have used any of your holiday allowance?" before it could be paid out....or the need to conduct "exit" interviews 6 months before the contract ended, despite the contract only being 4 months in length, etc. etc. etc. FFS.

There were so many examples of where "rights" were being campaigned for that were just not practical or of so minimal utility. Simply acknowledging the hours granted or the rate being paid was too low would have pretty much resolved all of the issue in one go, yet that was never apparently an option.
Post edited at 11:53
damhan-allaidh on 15 Aug 2017
In reply to MG:

"Adjunctivitis" - temporary contracts in the US system, particular to the Humanities, but elsewhere, too, are a growing and alarming problem http://www.pbs.org/newshour/making-sense/when-a-college-contracts-adjunctivitis-its-the-students-who...

Having said that I remember my comp sci professor saying to me in the early 90s, "According the University, I'm a visitung professor (adjunct). No one's told me yet where I'm visiting from." I can't remember how long he'd been there, but it was several years by that point. He was/is also a fantastic lecturer.
profitofdoom on 15 Aug 2017
In reply to Greenbanks:

> ....I was shocked to discover that an entire cohort of students had been taught a full module (30 credits) by 2 Year 3 f-t PhD students....

Interesting story, thanks. But I'd like a bit more information to assess that, please. Were the PhD students qualified to teach the module? I.e. did they have any teacher training? And - if they were second language speakers was their English good enough?

Personally, and speaking more broadly, I'm amazed at the notion that PhD students - or for that matter anyone with a PhD - is qualified to teach a class. IMO subject knowledge and/or subject-related skills do not qualify you to teach, because teaching is an altogether different skill to doing a PhD, or to doing research in any area. I'm not saying PhD students or anyone with a PhD is not a good teacher - of course many are: I'm saying that they are not NECESSARILY good teachers.
David Martin - on 15 Aug 2017
In reply to Offwidth:
I've seen the situation occur reasonably frequently. Usually as a result of academics themselves suddenly announcing they won't be around to teach next year and conveniently "here is a good friend or my favourite PhD student who is the only person qualified to teach my course...and I told them months ago they could teach it so you can't tell me otherwise now".

Likewise, when crisises of availability occur at short notice, a full recruitment and selection process may simply not be possible. We have to rely on the academic in question to give their honest and skilled account of who would be suitable to teach.

If it is management that is at fault for this kind of thing then it isn't the result of oppressive management and monitoring. Rather, it is the result of allowing so much flexibility and free reign in the way academics conduct themselves that time after time the institution is being put in impossible situations.
Post edited at 11:50
MG - on 15 Aug 2017
In reply to Offwidth:

> You think "genuine[ly] rubbish" are words to use to "condemn" something

Err, yes.

MG - on 15 Aug 2017
In reply to David Martin:

Yep, all familiar.
Offwidth - on 15 Aug 2017
In reply to David Martin:
Those were your Uni rules David, they were not typical and probably subject to your management being hapless in the face of a 'union stranglehold'. Starting pension contributions early seems advisable to me (and the employer and the government) in contrast to your odd portrayal and the opt out was always felt to be pretty obvious by our part time staff being clearly labelled in several places on the HR web advice and part of the briefing they got. The main pension problem I know of is historic many post 92 Universities caused people to lose out on thousands on their Final Salary pension as they often enrolled them on a different scheme (normally Local Government) and didn't explain well enough that they needed to move it into their TPS pension when they moved to a permanent acdemic post. Leave entiltlement adjustment is pro rata and well worth it if paid on low demonstrater rates and needing the cash.
Post edited at 11:59
David Martin - on 15 Aug 2017
In reply to Offwidth:

> Those were your Uni rules David,

Maybe. But they reek of incompetence to me, which has been one of my points all along regarding the abilities of staff in the HE sector. Refuse to allow performance criteria, categorise threats of sanction for failure as bullying (though everything can grind to a standstill if anyone has "hurt feelings" or detects a whiff of racism or sexism), and this is what you get.
Offwidth - on 15 Aug 2017
In reply to MG:

I think not so familiar. I'd lay long odds that your demonstrator payments are nothing like as generous as the rates at SOAS that David descibes. If everyone teaching at a University was paid that well for such work there would be much less fuss over ZHCs. The rate of pay descibed at Sheffield Uni in one of my links above (for the same job paid much better at SHU) might be below minimum wage if you took basic prep into account.
MG - on 15 Aug 2017
In reply to Offwidth:

> I think not so familiar.

"You're lying" is the best you can do now? I'm not going to name the institution because it was all well-meant but the problems were identical.

> I'd lay long odds that your demonstrator payments are nothing like as generous as the rates at SOAS...might be below minimum wage if you took basic prep into account.

Are you actually involved in teaching in anyway? You don't seem to have much idea how things work. Being paid for prep is normal.

ads.ukclimbing.com
Offwidth - on 15 Aug 2017
In reply to David Martin:

Again, in your institution. I could even forgive your exaggeration of 'stangleholds' given my own experience of how frustrating some issues can become dealing with UCU Left but a good lump of the blame has to go on the management as institutions elsewehere with just as militant branches seem to cope much more easily or even in some cases (London Met) play the high risk unfair dismisal game with the high profile lead branch reps.
Offwidth - on 15 Aug 2017
In reply to MG:
Its easy just tell us the demontsrator hourly pay rates for lab assistance at your place without naming it. There is no need for aggression... my point is SOAS seem to have the best part time rates I'm aware of anywhere in the sector.

Yes I teach, despite all the central, college, school and dept admin, UCU work and research I do, my official class contact is about 8 hours a week on average in term ( 50% of my local max and pretty high for my grade). This coming year it includes running a full second year Tech module with typically 70 students and 100 hours formal class contact a year and a smaller full MSc Engineering module with 40 hours class contact, plus helping out on other bits and many major projects (~8 annually split across BSc and MSc) and first supervisor to two PhD students. I've averaged about 350 hours class contact a year (mostly on accredited engineering courses) since 1988, I've probably got my institutional record for Academic Board membership at 4 full terms of 3 years and now into a fifth. How does that compare to your teaching experience and current load?
Post edited at 12:39
MG - on 15 Aug 2017
In reply to Offwidth:
> This coming year it includes running a full second year Tech module with typically 70 students and 100 hours formal class contact a year and a smaller full MSc Engineering module with 40 hours class contact, plus helping out on other bits and many major projects (~8 annually split across BSc and MSc) and first supervisor to two PhD students. How does that compare to your teachig load?

Currently one class of 230, one of 80, 10 MSc dissertations, 5 1st and 3 2nd Phds. This is too much, really.

I agree the SOAS rates seem high - perhaps the "hourly" rate includes prep. £16-20/hr, I think here.
Post edited at 12:36
David Martin - on 15 Aug 2017
In reply to MG:

> I agree the SOAS rates seem high - perhaps the "hourly" rate includes prep. £16-20/hr, I think here.

Yes, that's what the multiplier is for. The assumption being you put in roughly 1.5 hours extra for every 1 hour of tutorials you deliver, and 2 hours extra for every hour of lectures you provide. So the actual hourly rate (your salary/1524 hours of the year) is multiplied by 2.5 (if you are a tutor) and 3 (if you are a lecture) to come to the £45/£75 ("contact hour pay) you get per teaching hour - which notionally includes all other associated work (marking, office hours, prep etc.).

BUT, over the years and as a result of disputes, they have since built in a whole menu of additional payments paid at plain-time rates (ie. your hourly rate before the multiplier is added in) for office hours, prep, marking. Basically you get paid £45/£75 for each hour taught, then a load of £14/£25 payments for associated work. These additional payments on the face of it look insufficient, but as they are already partially included in the hourly rate for teaching, this is probably balanced out.
Greenbanks - on 16 Aug 2017
In reply to profitofdoom:

In response to yours (and another) query: the PhD students at that time had no PGCHE qualification (not sure whether they held a PGCE so can't comment). One had English as their first language, the other didn't. The field was quantitative research methods, but with specific orientation to education in schools.

Its worth noting, as others have done, that it is only relatively recently that there has been an emphasis on an explicit requirement to demonstrate competency to teach. I recall my first university appointment (in 1987), and others of my peers around that time; there really was an assumption that if you had a PhD (or another advanced qualification) you would be able to teach in a university context. My good fortune was that I'd had a good grounding working in schools (up to A level). Others were less advantaged and really struggled (as did their students, regrettably).

I do think the whole PGCHE, HEA and doctoral supervision expectations on the part of staff are now more structured and intended to safeguard the students being taught. A long way to go, and some of the bureaucracy is a real pain, but progress has been made.

Nonetheless, I think the overall theme in the thread is highly relevant and indicative of the current situation in various UK establishments. Current practices, in some places (by no means all), are seriously threatening the reputation of UK higher education - quite rightly viewed as being top rate in many respects.
wintertree - on 16 Aug 2017
In reply to Greenbanks:

> ... HEA ...

I have been mulling over starting a thread to see if I could find one single person who has undertaken a PGCAP as a route to HEA qualification who feels that it has improved their teaching in any way, excluding using their experiences as a negative example.

Bunch of box ticking to pass new metrics and not much to do with improving teaching one might almost think.
Doug on 16 Aug 2017
In reply to Greenbanks:

I can still remember the first lecture given by a new member of staff when I was an undergraduate (so late 70s/early 80s) as the worst lecture I've ever had to suffer. Fortunately he rapidly improved and went on to be very good.

Do British universities still invite outside lecturers? my only teaching in recent years has been invited lectures, often followed by a seminar, in French universities where no one has ever asked about teaching qualifications (I don't have any) although the invites usually come from people who have heard me speak at conferences or other meetings
profitofdoom on 16 Aug 2017
In reply to Greenbanks:

> ....the PhD students at that time had no PGCHE qualification (not sure whether they held a PGCE so can't comment).... it is only relatively recently that there has been an emphasis on an explicit requirement to demonstrate competency to teach....

Thanks a lot for your reply. It's interesting to read that that there's "A long way to go .... but progress has been made".
Greenbanks - on 16 Aug 2017
In reply to Doug:

I think that budget restrictions have dented the capacity of universities to bring in 'outside' lecturers. I think this is regrettable.

My experience from both sides (as a module leader and as a student myself) is that visiting speakers (who are selected on account of a particular specialism or level of experience) have valuable contributions to make, and stories to tell, that place much of what is being taught in a given module in a more 3-dimensional context. Of course, such people are often really good speakers...we never ask them if they have a teaching qualification - though of course delivering a one-off lecture is somewhat removed from 'teaching'
Greenbanks - on 16 Aug 2017
In reply to profitofdoom:
> Thanks a lot for your reply. It's interesting to read that that there's "A long way to go .... but progress has been made".

Well, if the requirement is taken seriously, and not seen as a straight-jacket to ensure (as implied somewhere in the thread) that these are tick-box exercises, then I think so. At least it enables a light to be shone on those dismal, disinterested academics, who preciously regard themselves purely as 'researchers', even though they are contracted to teach cohorts of undergraduates.
Post edited at 09:22
Doug on 16 Aug 2017
In reply to Greenbanks:
Agreed invited talks are not really teaching although as you say, they are very good at letting students see how the subject they are studying can be used in the 'outside world'. Shame if they are disappearing.

I've rarely been paid more than my travel expenses but I can claim such lectures as part of my day to day work. And I usually get taken out to dinner with a chance to try some local specialities (both food & drink)
David Martin - on 16 Aug 2017
In reply to wintertree:

> Bunch of box ticking to pass new metrics and not much to do with improving teaching one might almost think.

I think the requirement to undertake teacher training at our institution was in part a request from the UCU and in part born out of a desire to ensure paying students had at least some guarantee that their PhD student tutors understood a few aspects of teaching.

Whether the course is any good or not, I can't say. But this act of "box ticking" strikes me as entirely reasonable and long-overdue.
David Martin - on 16 Aug 2017
In reply to Doug:

> Do British universities still invite outside lecturers?

Yes. But it is increasingly difficult. Not just for budget reasons.

There is potential for accusations that the invited lecturer hasn't undergone a recruitment and selection process and therefore may be circumventing equal opportunities requirements. Some staff also resent that others appear to be "hiving out their teaching" to avoid teaching themselves.
wintertree - on 16 Aug 2017
In reply to David Martin:
The box ticking I am close to ranting about is the "qualification" for new lecturing staff rather than that for PhD ls doing teaching.
Post edited at 11:53
Offwidth - on 16 Aug 2017
In reply to wintertree:
Most new staff in my team have found it valauble, much more so as a proportion than when we had recruitment bulges in the past, so I guess it depends on how well its done and levels of past experience. I've known more over the years who felt it was just box ticking but the most vociferous in this respect didn't really care about teaching at all, regarding it more as a necessary evil. In contrast I can't find anything like as many fans of the full time staff FHEA essay based application to make us certified HE teachers. The HEA sadly look more parasitic than supportive to me given how much they cost as an organisation and the much larger sector costs in workloads to maintain their requirements. I also think we are conning the students and their parents that writing a difficult essay somehow transforms us to be qualified to teach.

Like Greenbanks, I'm glad PhD students are more uniformly trained these days and so more assured in their role and better protected from complaint (and also something else that too often got overlooked in the past: they have H&S cover in case of an accident or incident.... we are all subject to law and leaving unpaid PhDs to cover clases with no awareness of legal responsibilities was always shameful but too often occured as a 'favour' to their Prof).
Post edited at 12:31

This topic has been archived, and won't accept reply postings.