Tutors from the School of International Relations (IR) have released a letter against tutor pay cuts undersigned by over 100 students, faculty, and staff. Addressed to Professor Dame Sally Mapstone, Principal, Vice Chancellor, Dr Leyla Hussein OBE, amongst other staff members, the letter was written in solidarity with IR Postgraduate Teaching Assistants (GTAs).
The letter is in response to GTAs, colloquially called tutors, having their tutorial preparation time reduced from three hours per week to one hour per week if they have taught the module before. New tutors will still be paid for three hours of preparatory time.
This change was announced just after GTA contracts were implemented which dealt with issues like sick pay leave and promised pay raises along with years of experience.
One tutor, a PhD candidate and GTA, said, “They are recognizing experienced tutors by cutting their pay. This is going to be my fourth semester teaching but, because I’m experienced, I will be paid less than new tutors.”
The letter states: “Tutors require time to update themselves on recent scholarly literature and current events, to rewatch lectures (even on modules they have previously taught), and to better understand and apply knowledge frameworks to the needs of their students. The pay cuts disregard the possibility for tutors to effectively prepare, read recommended readings from the curriculum, watch lectures, revisit prior concepts, prepare engaging discussions, and field queries from students.”
Coupled with the fact that most sub-honours students are expected to spend 8-9 hours preparing for tutorials, the letter claims this risks “reducing St Andrews’ reputation as an institution of academic excellence”.
“It sends the wrong message to students to say you can become an expert on something in an hour,” the aforementioned tutor said.
The letter came about through a collective effort by several IR tutors. “The letter is a collective effort by a lot of IR tutors. It started being circulated between IR tutors and then we opened it for everyone to sign. Over the summer, we have tried to have discussions within the School and through our Union representatives but it doesn’t seem like they have gone very far.”
The cuts, the letter claims, have been enacted by the University without consulting tutors, students, or the School. The letter also cites a University and College Union survey which found that 52 per cent of Postgraduate Research students (PGRs) have “seriously considered suspending or terminating their PhD due to financial stress.”
The significance of the pay cuts is outlined by the letter: “If you were an ‘experienced’ GTA teaching one tutorial on one module, you would be receiving a 40 per cent pay cut. If you were teaching two tutorials on one module, you would be receiving a 33.3 per cent pay cut. If you were teaching three tutorials, it would be a 25 per cent pay cut.”
These cuts, the letter states, are in addition to a payment structure that “does not account for unpaid administrative work that tutors consistently do, including time spent answering student queries via email, logging, accommodating delays in submission, pastoral support, individual feedback, and much more.”
Another IR tutor said, “It impacts students as well. You want your tutor to be available but if we are, we’re doing that on an unpaid basis. Any of these things that provide that support for students, we have to do out of goodwill and unpaid and the University is reliant on us doing that work while unpaid.”
The letter asks for a reverse in pay cuts and a return to 3 hours of teaching time per week, “proactive discussions with tutors” about unpaid administrative tasks, an implementation in an action plan for financial support for PGRs, and an increase in representation for PGRs across the School of IR.
They also pointed out how this may impact Schools other than IR: “There have been other Schools that have used the fact that IR gets paid for three hours of prep time to fight to increase their pay to three hours. The School of English for instance last year started paying their tutors three hours of pay. They still have that but we don’t.”
The letter has been sent to the University and its receipt has been acknowledged but a formal response has not yet been issued.
Another IR tutor stated that the School has been receptive to their grievances, but, they state, that from the School’s perspective, “it is a University decision and the School doesn’t have a lot of space to manoeuvre around their decision. This is inevitably caused by the University cutting the School’s budget. ”
With the cost of living crisis in the UK and the housing crisis in St Andrews, several PGRs have been left wondering how to afford the steep prices of a PhD. The tutor continued, “A lot of PhDs students are wardens in halls and they have to take on this position because it is really hard to live in St Andrews with that level of financial support.
They continued: “For a lot of tutors, teaching is the main way we are able to live. A lot of us in IR are self-funded — we don’t get any funding from the university. For them to come and push this through a time where we are already not getting funding is really difficult.
“I really like St Andrews. I love the University. I did my undergrad here, I left and came back to do my PhD here. Universities as a whole tend to have a lot of issues but St Andrews usually does quite well and does show it cares,” they said, “This has been one of those few annoying times where this is not the case. A lot of universities are doing better and having discussions about what they can do to help their PhD students.”
“With energy bills and rent increasing, it compounds this issue of pay. I have less money to spend but everything is getting more expensive. A lot of us are moving out of town or in the process of moving out of town.”
“The University’s excuse is that we shouldn't be living on our teaching money. I am doing four jobs on the side of my PhD. Mentally, it is a strain for me but I also just wish I could be there more for my students. It will impact students and it is really a shame that it will but we as tutors need to prioritise the hours of work that I am getting paid for.”