CHSS Tutors Petition Letter
Dear Senior Vice-Principal Professor Charlie Jeffery, Dean of Postgraduate Studies Professor Richard Coyne, Head of College of Humanities and Social Science Professor Dorothy Miell, and Heads of School Professor Rowena Arshad, Professor Christopher Breward, Professor Charlotte Clarke, Professor Ian Clarke, Professor Simon Clark, Professor David Finkelstein, Professor Paul Foster, Professor Jesper Kallestrup, Professor Fiona Mackay, Professor Ian Ralston, Professor Jeremy Robbins, Professor Richard Sparks,
This letter is the result of a series of meetings held by hourly-paid tutors to share their experiences regarding teaching and working conditions in Schools across the College of Humanities and Social Science. We would like to inform you of a series of circumstances that we believe detrimentally affect our teaching practice, and to propose a way of solving them by establishing principles for tutoring conditions across the College.
As hourly-paid staff, we are greatly concerned about the serious inconsistencies in our working conditions across the Schools that compose CHSS. There is a widespread consensus among us that ongoing crucial issues (including, but not limited to, a lack of transparency and clarity, unfair pay rates, workload, and limited access to facilities) adversely affect our ability to deliver the high-quality teaching that we are expected and strongly committed to provide to students at the University of Edinburgh. The various Schools have attempted to address some of these issues, achieving varying degrees of success. In particular, we have welcomed the ongoing changes to tutor pay and conditions in SPS, especially the work of administrative staff to ensure tutors are paid on time for work carried out.
Despite the recent introduction of Guaranteed Hours contracts, serious issues regarding working conditions remain for hourly-paid staff. Indeed, we are aware of the use of one-off payments (rather than Guaranteed Hours contracts) for teaching taking place in LLC, HCA, and ECA, which constitute even worse working conditions than the former HTBN contracts. The University of Edinburgh has one of the highest rates of casualised staff of HEIs in the UK, and relies on these staff to deliver a vast amount of teaching. We therefore believe that it should be of utmost priority for the University and CHSS to address these issues. As a first step in this process, we would like to propose the following principles to be established as a basic regulation for tutors’ working conditions, to be followed by all Schools within the College:
- Transparency and clarity regarding contracts and conditions:
- Clarity regarding working conditions in advance of and throughout the academic year. Many tutors are unsure about contractual conditions and have received vague or inconsistent replies to enquiries. Of particular importance are clarity regarding holiday and sick pay, marking rates, and the College-sanctioned maximum hours threshold per academic year in a Guaranteed Hours contract. Furthermore, SPS and PPLS tutors are provided with a Tutors’ Manual that clearly specifies expectations of tutors before the beginning of the academic year―we believe that this practice should be extended throughout CHSS.
- Clarity regarding teaching and marking standards. Schools and departments should provide tutors with accurate descriptions and examples of quality teaching and feedback that can reasonably be delivered in the time allocated to tutors for marking and tutorial preparation.
- Transparency and improved communication regarding tutoring application and allocation processes.
- Fair and equal pay for all work performed.
- Pay for training and all work-related meetings.
- Pay for tutorial or lab preparation time that reflects the actual time required, including expected attendance to lectures for first-time tutors to obtain subject-related information regarding their allocated tutorials.
- Marking rates should reflect time spent marking and should be based on the length of assignments i.e number of words marked. Tutors across the College maintain that, in order to give quality feedback, they spend much more time marking assignments than they are paid for. In HCA 76% of tutors surveyed in 2015/16 reported that they spend more time marking than they are paid for. Some reported that they force themselves to mark essays within the allocated paid time but believe that the quality of their feedback is poor as a consequence. Furthermore, rates are inconsistent across Schools. Some tutors in History are paid at a rate of 6,000 words per hour, in contrast with 4,000 words per hour in SPS. Finally, some Schools have altered rates mid-academic year without informing tutors. We believe that a rate of 3,000 words per hour (including the completion of feedback forms) would strike the balance between current pay and the actual time spent on marking.
- Tutors should be paid for assessment of students’ tutorial performance (when demanded by the course), and the rates should be dependent on the number of students taught. Tutors in LLC and HCA are currently not paid for doing this, whereas in SPS tutors are paid two hours per tutorial group. We believe a reasonable rate would be 10 minutes per student assessed.
- Pay for office hours to meet with students and reply to teaching-related emails. In LLC and PPLS, tutors are currently not paid for office hours, and other Schools, including SPS and HCA, have inconsistent pay rates. Following a precedent set by SPS, we suggest payment for 30 minutes per week per tutorial group.
- Underlying any changes should be a commitment to tutors being paid for all work that they do, with clear guidance about how to claim for this work in their timesheets. We ask that any future payment guidance be open and responsive to the actual work being done.
- Provision of training and support for tutors. This should be discipline-specific, and could include course briefings, marking workshops, and/or a system of teaching mentors.
- Inclusion of part-time tutors as staff members in the academic community and consultation with tutors regarding changes to conditions. Tutors should be consulted in advance, with reasonable notice, of any changes to working conditions taking place; and be openly invited to any School or Department meetings where these decisions are discussed and made. Attendance at these meeting should be paid for.
- Equal access to facilities and resources for all members of staff.
- Access to appropriate facilities and physical space to meet with students to discuss feedback or other issues. In LLC and HCA tutors meet students in corridors and cafes, which is not suitable for students wishing to discuss sensitive issues.
- Teaching facilities should be fully equipped and tutors should be given access to resources required for teaching (including adaptors, laptops in non-equipped rooms, stationery, printing credit).
- Tutors should have access to all staff facilities. In LLC, tutors who have not completed their PhD are not provided access to the staff room. This generates an unacceptable segregation that is detrimental to the development of the academic community.
We are aware that many of these issues have been previously raised, including by Edinburgh University Students’ Association Postgraduate officers, by UCU in a petition for tutors and demonstrators in 2013, and by the ‘Enhancing Employment’ project. However, we believe that, despite these concerns, conditions have not improved, and in some instances have even deteriorated. We are committed to solving these serious issues in a spirit of collaboration and cooperation, and look forward to your response.