Uni paying academic staff less than minimum wage?
Earlier this year Aberystwyth University advertised for a ‘Part Time Teacher in Field and Conservation Ecology’ in the School of Education and Lifelong Learning. The successful candidate was required to have either previous experience of teaching or a teaching qualification in a similar subject. The salary for this academic job was listed as £13.98 - £16.67 per hour. This meant that the minimum hourly of £13.98 was the starting rate of pay, increasing up to a maximum of £16.67 per hour by annual increments. The crucial part of the job description came next ‘Payment (based on teaching contact hours) is inclusive of preparation time, marking and associated administration.
A well-qualified potential applicant for the job looked at the full job description and then wrote to the Human Resources Team at the University: ‘Thank you for the email advertising this vacancy. I had a look at the job description, which I found very interesting. However, I then looked at the contract and I must admit that I find it shocking! To remunerate only contact hours (and not at a generous rate) with allowing no extra time for preparation, administration and marking would amount to working for less than the minimum wage. I think you should seriously reconsider what sort of employer you want to be and what sort of teaching you will be able to attract - and, hence, deliver - for that sort of contract.’
The Human Resources Team duly responded, stating that the rate of pay had been agreed with the Trade Unions. HR also said that they had ‘a temporary multiplier in place whilst we look at the final rate going forward’. The job did indeed cite ‘a multiplier of 0.28% added to the hourly rate for all contact hours plus paid annual leave’. A multiplier of 0.28% would increase the minimum rate on offer to £17.89 per hour (£13.98 x 1.28).
The minimum and living wage
The potential applicant who, considering future employability, wishes to remain anonymous repeated their concerns to the Herald. ‘I understand the rate for the contact hours, what I don't understand is that it is supposed to cover preparation (lectures, setting assignments etc.), admin and marking as well. It is my experience that for every contact hour there are at least 3 hours of other work, which makes the rate well under the minimum wage, let alone the living wage. Even at an unlikely multiplier rate of 2, I find it hard to believe anybody could make a living from contracts such as this and I am very surprised that any trade union would agree to such terms.’
The legal minimum wage in the UK for workers aged 25 and over is £7.20 per hour. Currently, the Living Wage Foundation calculates that the Living Wage should be £8.25 per hour. The Living Wage is calculated according to the basic cost of living in the UK.
Like most universities, Aberystwyth uses postgraduate students to do some lecturing. UK-wide, more than half of postgraduate students have taught or assisted in teaching during their own research studies. Having spoken with a number of postgraduates undertaking this work, the Herald found that they too were being offered the £13.98 per hour rate. While some postgraduate lecturers had contested the rate and negotiated a better deal, others - inexperienced in employment and very much in need of money - accepted it. This situation is mirrored across the UK with 43% of postgraduate teachers believing they are unfairly paid and 30% earning less than the national minimum wage in real terms. Around half of postgraduates who teach do not receive a contract of employment or a job description in contravention of the 1996 Employment Rights Act.
A source also told the Herald that some departments in Aberystwyth University were experiencing difficulty attracting ‘guest lecturers’ because the £13.98 per hour rate was being applied to them too. Typically a guest lecturer is someone with specialist knowledge in a particular subject area, for instance someone with years of experience in an industry. Guest lecturers can significantly enhance the offer of any university, but many candidates would be reluctant to prepare and deliver a lecture were they paid only for the contact time in the lecture theatre. The rate for specialist guest lecturers at comparable universities typically ranges from £65 to £85 per contact hour.
Home and away
The Herald understands that Aberystwyth University pay for grade 6 starts at 13.98 an hour. To make it to grade 7, earning £17.17 to start, you have to be doing research. Thus, teaching-only staff can never get to that scale. As we’ve seen, at least some departments use a multiplier of 0.28 to account for preparation, marking and administration. Most other universities use a multiplier of 2.5. In one case that the Herald researched a visiting lecturer with similar qualifications and experience to that required for the Aberystwyth job was paid £42.94 for every hour of face-to-face teaching in a similar institution. That rate included a multiplier of 2.5 to cover preparation for teaching, teaching itself, tutorials guidance, setting and marking students' assignments and examinations, as well as attending meetings. So, the basic rate for this post was £17.18 per hour. Even with the multiplier in place, the job-holder told us that it ‘certainly wasn’t easy money’.
The union view
The University and College Union (UCU) represents around 50% of academic staff at Aberystwyth University. Many others belong to other unions. In a statement constrained by current circumstances, Roger Boyle, Aberystwyth UCU Secretary, said: ‘Aberystwyth UCU believes strongly that good quality teaching is contingent on well qualified staff being remunerated at reasonable rates. Experienced academics are well aware that preparation (or creation) of material for university level delivery can be very time consuming, and that short-cutting this time investment is almost always detrimental to learning. Precise estimates for this time are naturally hard to pinpoint but the figure used by the Postgraduate Employment Charter of 2.5 times number of delivery hours has to be seen as reasonable and would be argued by many as a minimum.’
The Herald understands that Aberystwyth University supports the Postgraduate Employment Charter. The Charter is jointly promoted by UCU and the National Union of Students (NUS), many of whose postgraduate members work as lecturers. The Charter states that: ‘All postgraduates who teach should be paid, and this should include recognition of time spent on preparation, marking, administration, attending lectures and supporting students. UCU recommends 2.5 times the hourly rate for every teaching hour’. Given the stated position of Aberystwyth UCU and the UK Charter, it is pertinent to ask which ‘Trade Unions’ agreed the £13.98 rate and 0.28% multiplier with Aberystwyth University, as stated by HR?
Aber Uni responds
Aberystwyth University issued a statement addressing the case of our would-be job applicant and the issues raised: ‘The University would welcome the opportunity to listen and respond to the individual you refer to as we would want to correct any misunderstandings and provide accurate/complete information if that's not happened to date. Please note that all our part-time teachers are on the University’s main pay scale, which is based on the nationally-agreed Higher Education Role Analysis job evaluation scheme (HERA) and these are the same as full time teaching staff. The University has implemented an interim multiplier for part-time teachers. Our next step is to integrate the work of the Part-time Teachers Group with the Work load Allocation Model group which involves representation from the appropriate and recognised trade unions.’
Beginning with the case of an advertisement for a part-time academic position at Aberystwyth University, we have investigated the employment of postgraduate lecturers similarly employed part-time and offered the same rate of pay. Let us return to the case of our potential applicant. Is Aberystwyth University advertising part-time academic posts at a rate which is effectively less than the minimum wage? Recall that with the 0.28% multiplier the hourly rate on offer to our potential applicant is £17.89 per hour. If a fair multiplier of 2.5 was applied, this rate is effectively £7.16 per hour (£17.89/2.5), which is indeed less than the national minimum wage of £7.20 per hour. To conclude, we resound our potential applicant’s counsel to Aberystwyth University going forward: ‘I think you should seriously reconsider what sort of employer you want to be and what sort of teaching you will be able to attract - and, hence, deliver - for that sort of contract.’