Casualisation and Unpaid Assessment in Edinburgh’s English Literature Department

The UCU Edinburgh branch has submitted two anti-casualisation claims to the Principal’s Office in the past year, the first one in March 2017. The most recent one, which reached Prof Mathieson during his first week in post at the beginning of February continues without an official response from the principal.

The case below, which is just one of many cases of casualised staff not being paid fairly for their work, was sent to us by a number of UCU members in the English Literature department, and we publish it here on behalf of them. This most recent action outlined below on the part of English Department tutors forms part of a longer history of UCU Edinburgh’s anti-casualisation work that has had some positive results including pay for marking, moves to fractional contracts for a number of members, and a heightened awareness of the negative impact of casualisation.

Unpaid Assessment in Edinburgh’s English Department

Guaranteed Hours (GH) contract tutors in the University of Edinburgh’s English Department have been told that they will not be paid for tutorial assessment – marking and commenting on students’ work in tutorials – if they cannot fit this into the time they are given to prepare for a class (usually one hour of preparation for a one-hour tutorial). During the recent pensions dispute, GH contract tutors in the English Department taking action short of a strike found that they could not complete participation assessments for their tutorial groups without separate payment for this specific piece of assessment. While essay marking is paid at a rate of 4500 words per hour (26.7 minutes for each 2,000-word pre-honours essay, or 20 minutes for a 1,500-word one), tutorial assessment falls between any categories for payment. GH tutors in the deparment are permitted to claim two hours per semester for administrative work, into which they must fit all email interactions, potential office hours with students, discussing and adjusting marks after moderation, uploading material to the Virtual Learning Environment, assigning readings and writing tutorial schedules (let alone familiarising themselves with texts and relevant criticism). Needless to say, most of that administrative time is spent before tutors even see their students. Likewise the one hour of paid preparation for each one-hour tutorial is insufficient to prepare a class let alone assess participation at the end of the semester. Tutorial participation amounts to unpaid assessment.

To resolve this issue, 17 UCU member who are GH tutors in the English Department signed a letter to the Head of Department asking to be remunerated for one hour of pay per tutorial (or two hours pay if the number of students exceed 10, as in some honours courses) to complete this core assessment, now and in the future. The new tutors and demonstrators policy (see point 3.1: https://www.ed.ac.uk/files/atoms/files/tutorsdemonstrators_policy.pdf) states explicitly that any assessment that is compulsory needs to be paid for. Indeed, this is paid for in the School of Social and Political Science, for example, at a rate of two hours per tutorial. However, their class sizes are about twice as large as those in English Literature, hence the claim for one hour’s pay per tutorial.

The response was that ‘the departmental view that Tutors are appropriately paid for tutorial participation remains unchanged’: that ‘tutorial participation is included in the double rate multiplier’, that the Heads of School and Heads of College consider that ‘tutors were paid appropriately within the existing multipliers’, and that ‘it should take no longer than 15-20 minutes to complete the tutorial participation feedback form for a class of approximately 10 students per semester’. This amounts to two minutes per student. The 17 English Literature tutors refused to take time out of the already insufficient one hour paid to prepare for a one-hour tutorial, due to their care for their students and determination to give students a worthwhile education. They have adhered to the Head of Department’s recommended time of assessing tutorial participation as two minutes per student, however, they have submitted claims for payment for this time as marking.

If you are a GH tutor or demonstrator and would like to help and/or stay informed with the branch’s anti-casualisation campaign, please email ucu@ed.ac.uk

Follow the Postgrad and postdoc UCU Network on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/groups/UCUEdinburghpostgrad/ or find them here (with contact details for the network organisers): https://ucuedinburgh.wordpress.com/about/postgrad-postdoc-network/

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