Fair Pay for College Teaching

The Oxford UCU Anti-Casualisation Network is today launching a petition calling for improved pay and conditions for hourly-paid and stipendiary College teaching staff.

The petition is addressed to the current chair and co-chair of Conference of Colleges (the Oxford Colleges’ “forum”) and the 39 college senior tutors. It outlines three demands:

  1. A pay rise
  2. Clear contracts and transparent recruitment processes
  3. Paid training for all postgraduates who teach

The basic rate of pay for a 1-1 tutorial increased by 41p between 2020-21 and 2021-22, from £27.65 to £28.06. The payment for a 2-1 tutorial increased from £34.56 to £35.08. These rates include payment for preparation, marking, and administration. With these duties factored in, the rate of hourly pay for tutors often falls well below the Oxford Living Wage of £10.31. We should be clear about what this means: Oxford’s “world leading” teaching provision is based on systematic wage theft by institutions with a combined wealth of nearly £6bn

Stipendiary lecturers play a vital role in teaching, pastoral care, and admissions; they are equally vital to the research culture of their subject areas. But insecurity, exploitative nine-month contracts, and poor pay are all too familiar in these roles. Conference of Colleges’ Register of Approved Payments states that stipendiary lecturers are paid on a salary scale “based on Grade 5 of the University’s salary scale structure.” Academic roles in the central University start at grade 6 and departmental lecturers are usually employed at grades 7 and 8. It’s clear that both hourly-paid tutors and stipendiary lecturers are long overdue a pay rise.

In December 2021, the Oxford UCU Anti-Casualisation Network and Oxford Brookes UCU collected testimonies from casualised and precarious staff across both universities. The testimonies from PGRs and College teaching staff show how detrimental these roles are to career progression and mental and physical health, and how they entrench inequalities:  

I am a recent PhD graduate with five different casual teaching contracts. Casualised contracts mean that I have had to move back in with my parents aged 30 because I cannot afford rent and have no means of securing a housing contract since my contracts are so short-term and much of my work is just word-of-mouth [and] hourly paid. Although I make less than £15,000 a year, I have 12-20 contact hours per week in term time, have spent ~30 hours on admissions (which is listed as a necessary and therefore unpaid duty in my 2-hour a week stipendiary contract) alongside a (casualised!) 7 hour a week admin contract, so I am frequently exhausted and suffering from both mental burnout and (clinical) physical fatigue. I suffer from muscle weakness, insomnia, palpitations and migraines from the stress.

I moved from a faculty post into a college, and then back into a faculty. Meanwhile I taught for another faculty, for a decade. I wasn’t issued a contract for the sessional classes. When I fell pregnant, mid-job move, the sessional classes would have shown continuity of employment by the university. But because they never issued me with a contract, they didn’t, and my maternity pay was withheld. The federalised structure [of Oxford University] meant my career didn’t count.

One myth is that [casualised teaching contracts] are for bright PhD students getting their foot on the career ladder… . In reality there are many colleagues on these contracts who have been doing their jobs for years – and are relied on to take the work as they will do a good job without needing any support. The framing of these jobs as career development opportunities for which young researchers ought to be grateful therefore ignores the contributions of experienced lecturers and their need for secure and dignified contracts…

I am a…PhD student…and I am paid to teach undergraduates by my college…via a “development scholarship”, which means that I am legally not employed by the college…. I do not have basic workers’ rights such as paid holiday or holiday pay, sick pay, ability to have a workplace pension… I also have no protection if the college decides to stop my “scholarship” for any reason…

The petition also draws inspiration from the Cambridge UCU’s #Justice4CollegeSupervisors campaign, which has recently received coverage in the national press. As at Cambridge, our campaign highlights the lack of union representation for workers in the collegiate university. While the central University recognises trades unions, Oxford’s constituent colleges do not. Earlier this year, Oxford UCU narrowly missed the threshold to take part in the latest rounds of USS and Four Fights industrial action. College-only staff—some of our most precarious and exploited members—weren’t eligible to take part in the ballot and would not have been able to participate in industrial action had we reached the threshold.

The petition is here. A solidarity position for students, staff, and alumni is here.

Supporting Striking Colleagues in the Four Fights and USS Disputes

Motion formally passed at an Oxford UCU General Meeting on 8 February 2022

UCU is currently in dispute with employers to prevent the further erosion of our pay and working conditions and to fight for equality (Four Fights), and to protect our USS pensions against severe cuts.

Colleagues at 68 institutions across the country, including Oxford Brookes, will begin the next round of strikes from Monday 14th February (for USS) and Monday 21st February (for Four Fights).

Employees of the University of Oxford are currently prevented from taking industrial action by the Trade Union Act 2016 because, despite over 75% of votes being in favour of industrial action, the branch narrowly missed the threshold to take action during the recent ballots. UCU has a national Fighting Fund which is used to compensate members for pay withheld during industrial action.

To support our colleagues across the country who will be taking industrial action in the coming weeks and to ensure a positive outcome from the disputes, Oxford UCU is:

  1. making a donation of £1000 to the UCU Fighting Fund, and
  2. encouraging those members who are able to make personal donations to the UCU
    Fighting Fund.

UCU Representative and Caseworker Taster Session

Monday 21 June at 13.00

Trade union representatives and caseworkers provide essential support to members, representing their interests and defending their rights. Departmental reps are key contacts within departments, supporting members by discussing workplace concerns, finding solutions, and improving health and safety procedures. Caseworkers advise members across the University who are facing workplace difficulties, for example with redundancy procedures, bullying and harassment, disciplinary issues, equality and discrimination, and other problems.

The more union reps and caseworkers we have, the more members we can support, so please consider joining us! Current Oxford UCU reps and caseworkers are running a no-obligation online information session on Monday 21 June at 13.00. The event will introduce you to the important union roles of department/unit representative and caseworker and will include testimonials from current reps and caseworkers about why getting involved in the union has been so fulfilling for them.

Come find out more about how you can help yourself and your colleagues improve working conditions across the University! You can register in advance here.

Proposal of the Greek Government to create a special university police force for Greek Universities

Motion formally passed at Oxford UCU General Meeting on 26th January 2021

Oxford UCU notes that the University of Oxford does not have a university police force, and that security on University premises is provided by the University’s own personnel. 

Oxford UCU believes that the proposal of the Greek Government to create a special university police force for Greek Universities, ostensibly without wide consultation or sufficiently considering alternatives, is alarming and not in line with best practice. 

Oxford UCU notes its solidarity to Greek colleagues, students, parents, and citizens opposing the creation of such a special university police force, which is unlikely to respond to the most pertinent problems of Greek higher education institutions, such as chronic underfunding (including for security provision) and personnel cuts. 

Oxford UCU resolves to release and publicise this statement, including through relevant media outlets, using the Branch’s resources. 

How to to get involved: Save the Language Centre Library!

The University of Oxford’s commitment to an international outlook and engagement seems to end where it comes to funding the Language Centre. In its £2.237 billion budget (2017-18), the University can’t find money for an urgently needed refurbishment of the building on Woodstock Road (let alone an extension!), or for new classroom equipment. On the contrary: the grant the centre receives towards its running costs has been cut by more than 10% for 2018-19. Savings of £52k per annum have to be made, and of course, the rationale behind it all is that the Language Centre should fund itself by creating more income.

To save money, and to free up space and resources for income-generating activities (such as lucrative Academic English summer courses), the Language Centre’s library (which is a learning resource available for free to all University members) has been identified as non income generating liability, and is threatened with closure.
This means that library staff have been notified on 18 February that they are at risk of redundancy. Plans have been drawn up to disperse library’s unique collection of language learning materials among other libraries in Oxford, and to the Bodleian book storage facilities’ ‘closed stacks’ in Swindon.
According to the initial ‘business case for restructuring the library’, a learning resource which has been built by specialist librarians over 40 years and provides materials for 203 languages, was scheduled to quietly disappear at the end of Trinity Term 2019.

Read more about what is at stake: Language Learning at the Marketised University, or: Libraries do not generate income, that’s why they have to go

The consultation about the library plans, according to the University, has started on 18 February, but for the first weeks, the information that the Language Centre library is threatened with closure was not available much beyond a narrow circle of Language Centre and Academic Administration Division staff.

The issue was only made public when Lucile Desligneres, the Language Centre librarian, started an online petition to Save the Language Centre Library on 27 February.
Oxford UCU discussed a motion at its General Meeting on 4 March, voting 20 in favour with 1 abstention

  •  to condemn the plan to dismantle the Language Centre’s physical and online collections and to abolish the posts of a qualified, specialist Language Centre librarian and the library assistants.
  • to insist that full consultation takes place with all stakeholders, including Language Centre and wider Oxford University students and staff, before any decision about the future of the Language Centre Library is taken.
  • to demand that the whole collection should remain intact within an appropriate physical space in the Language Centre or, if this is considered unfeasible, then that it should be moved to a single, fully-resourced and equipped, central location at the University of Oxford.

But it took until 5 March until news about the library plans appeared publicly on the Language Centre website, and Language Centre course students where invited via email to comment on the proposals. Two days later, the Committee of College Librarians received a ‘briefing note’ about the library plans. However, background information about the scope, timescale and likely impact of the proposals remained unavailable to most stakeholders, who for any comments, would have to rely an vague statements provided via a news item on the Language Centre website, or via one-page ‘briefing notes’.  (…And starting this kind of ‘consultation’ during the last week of term, just before 8 weeks of Easter vacations… Genius!)

Then, whilst the online petition was gaining momentum and within 3 weeks reached 1.500 signatures, nothing much from the University side. (Oh yes, sure, Easter vacations.)

On 26 March 2019, Oxford UCU learned in relation to the staff redundancy case that the General Purposes Committee of Council will discuss the future of the Language Centre library at its meeting on 1 July, and make a recommendation to Council by 15 July.

And – lo and behold! On 10 April, only seven weeks into – or halfway through – their ‘consultation period’ the Language Centre management finally published a paper Consultation on language centre library proposals, which is supposed to be the basis of a discussion at an ‘Open Forum’ event, to take place on Tuesday 7 May 2019, from 12 noon – 1.30pm, at St Luke’s Chapel on the Radcliffe Observatory Quarter on the Woodstock Road. (An open forum discussion, neat. Let’s not discuss this in a formal consultation meeting, for which there would have to be official minutes, and where the implementation of decisions and recommendations could be followed up.)

There now also is an Language Centre Library Consultation Survey, open until 12 noon on Friday 31 May, i.e. for seven weeks.

What Oxford UCU does, and where we need your help:

  •  Sign the online petition, and share widely the link https://www.change.org/p/save-the-language-centre-library
  • We are preparing a Oxford UCU reply to the consultation. Help by sending  your comments on the Language Centre library: Have you used it, and what impact did it have on your studies, research, career, life? Any thoughts on the role of language learning in Higher Education, and how Universities should fund this? We would like to include as many comments and opinions as possible, and you can reach us via ucu@ox.ac.uk.
  • Join the Language Centre Library campaign. We are a group of Oxford UCU members and friends, working on making information about the Language Centre library closure plans available, and campaigning for the library’s collection and facilities to remain intact. If you can help with writing articles and blog posts, gathering information, getting in touch with the media… join us by contacting ucu@ox.ac.uk.
  • Come to the the ‘Open Forum’ on Tuesday 7 May 2019 (you will need to register here for the event), and voice your support for the Language Centre library. We are planning to have a pre-meeting to discuss which questions we could ask; for details join our Language Centre Library Campaign mailing list, again by contacting ucu@ox.ac.uk.
  • If you are an Oxford University student, contact your Student Union to find out how you can get involved in formulating their consultation response.