The graduate students in the philosophy program at the University of St. Andrews are concerned about their teaching conditions, some of them tell me, but they don’t have a good grasp on how their situation compares with that of philosophy students elsewhere, particularly in the UK.
They’ve asked that I post the following letter. Comments, especially from those with comparative information, is welcome:
PhD students at the University of the St Andrews have the option to lead one or more weekly hour-long discussion groups of around 7 first or second year undergraduates. The work is often incredibly fulfilling, but some of us think the university’s pay policies are borderline exploitative. We are hourly employees, paid at a rate of £13.82. Every week philosophy tutors are paid an hour to prepare a discussion based on a particular reading, the hours we are in the classroom, and an hour to meet with students or answer emails. In addition, we are paid 20 minutes per 1500 word essay graded. This means we are expected to provide meaningful and accurate feedback to undergraduates for 4.6 pounds.
We are curious how people in other departments (especially at other UK institutions) feel about these conditions. To many graduate students, it feels like the university is offloading energy-intensive work to graduate students for next to nothing because the university knows we need teaching experience on our CVs. We realize £13.82 per hour is also significantly higher than UK minimum wage, but recently when we raised the issue that many of us spend significantly more than an hour to prepare material (because we are, for example, reading the papers about which we are leading discussions), we were told that this should be unnecessary because we were hired as experts in philosophy. £13.82 per hour is not a wage that reflects expertise.
Because our pay is actually better than the University of St Andrew’s minimum guidelines (the department is not required to pay us a weekly hour for student contact), and there are rumors that the university is planning on cutting back on the amount departments receive to allocate to tutor pay, next year we may get paid even less to teach more students. We have been considering collective action, but we are also worried that perhaps we should just count our blessings—that we have the opportunity to teach at all.