Universities that treat postgraduate researchers (PGRs) as students rather than staff are unfair and need to change, according to the University and College Union (UCU). UCU would like universities to sign a manifesto it drafts calling for PGRs to be granted basic labor rights and benefits.
The manifesto also requires that PGRs have access to adequate facilities to complete their research along with regular feedback and support. It states that PGRs should not be required to provide unpaid teaching assignments as part of a fellowship, fellowship, or fellowship. Teaching PGRs, often known as Graduate Teaching Assistants (GTAs), should have agreed hours and pay rates, a job description, and access to a pension scheme. In addition, the manifest calls for funded work extensions for PGRs affected by the pandemic.
“PGRs produce high-level research and also provide excellent teaching, but for some reason universities don’t consider this work and instead treat them like students and take full advantage of them,” says UCU General Secretary Jo Grady. “As a result, they miss out on some of the most basic benefits like access to sick leave and parental leave. This is totally unacceptable, as is the practice that some PGRs even pay for the privilege of doing research at a university[as some PhDs are unfunded] . ‘
A report from the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi) last year concluded that doctoral students should be treated more like employees, even if they don’t necessarily become full-fledged employees. This could include, for example, better access to pensions. The report found that the average PhD student works 47 hours a week, 50% more than the average bachelor’s degree and three hours less than the average academic. For doctoral students with a grant from the Basic Research Council, this was less than the minimum wage.
“PGRs are angry and tired of how they continue to be treated,” says Alex Kirby-Reynolds, a sociology PGR at the University of Sheffield. “We are overworked, undervalued and exposed to toxic work environments. It’s a shame that many PGRs have to pay to work for universities. We want to be paid fairly for our work, have access to the same rights and benefits as our employees, and receive appropriate support in our research. ‘
“HEIs always want to ensure that regardless of their contract, employees feel they are receiving appropriate compensation and support to help students,” said Raj Jethwa, executive director of the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA). “Variable contracts are used to get the valued input from qualified professionals who deliver specific courses in specific degree programs. Most employees with these contracts benefit from the excellent benefits of working in [higher education] and appreciate the experience and flexibility these arrangements offer. As part of our full and final salary offer for this year, UCEA has suggested working with industry unions to develop an understanding of the problems GTAs and colleges face in performing these roles. ‘
A UK Research and Innovation spokesperson commented: “As funders, we recognize the important issues facing the UCU and will work with the community to consider a number of options to ensure that PGRs receive the right support, including through our work in the “new deal for PGRs”, which holistically addresses the limitations of the current system. ‘
Chemistry world contacted a number of chemistry departments on PGRs but none were available for comment.
Nick Hillman, director of Hepi, points out that the list of UCU claims is getting longer, including wages, pensions and now this issue. “Managers and governors would find it enormously helpful if the UCU could prioritize their demands. In the restricted funding environment after the pandemic, they are not going to get everything they want and no one is quite sure what they want most. ‘