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Associate Tutors overworked

Associate Tutors in Humanities (HUMS), Social Sciences and Cultural studies (SOCCUL) and the Sussex Institute (SI) are amid a pay and equality crisis following the introduction of a controversial new pay and staff grading system initially proposed last year.

The beginning of January this year saw the new proposal take place, despite numerous protests, leading to some Associate Tutors (ATs) taking drastic pay cuts while their actual workload is increasing.

Associate tutors are staff who are employed in casual labour and include a wide range of roles within the University, including emeritus professors (retired professionals) to long term teaching tutors. ATs are also DPhil students and bursary DPhil students.

In SOCCUL and HUMS around 90% of Associate tutors have been matched with Grade 5 under the national Higher Education Role Analysis (HERA) pay spine. The trade union, UCU tells The Badger that, “Nationally grade 5 is not regarded as a teaching role,” it is more accurately an administrative position meaning that, “Teaching roles are significantly undervalued.” Ironically, HERA was created to insure equal pay and rights across educational roles. Under this sub academic grade, ATs are not expected or paid to produce their own material in seminars; rather all materials to be taught such as plans and exercises must come from the course convenor. In practice convenors do not produce such comprehensive schemes of work, meaning that teaching in HUMS, SI and SOCCUL now functions due to ATs going beyond what they are paid to do.

This has a potentially detrimental impact on students’ education, something which ATs feel passionately about. The Badger understands that if ATs are forced to work from pre-prepared schemes of work, students, “might as well read a text book” and they feel that they have been required by management to “dumb down education.” ATs are committed to education and research and for this reason continue to work above and beyond what is required of them under the new grading. One associate tutor says that Grade 5, “Wouldn’t be seminar teaching as we understand it” as it makes seminars literally “un-teachable.” Fundamentally, it is asserted that, “If we only performed the duties we are paid to do, undergraduate education would collapse.”

Deep frustration stems from the fact that associate tutors have the ability to teach at a high level as they are knowledgeable in their subject (many are DPhil students or post-docs.) However, Grade 5 states that ATs not only should not produce their own teaching material but also that they should not update their subject knowledge for teaching. Absurd, considering they take an extremely important role of teaching a majority of first and second year undergraduates. It even became apparent in a meeting attended by The Badger that some grade 5 ATs are acting as course convenors or co-convenors, making the notion of not producing their own material completely nonsensical.

“If we only performed the duties we are paid to do, undergraduate education would collapse”

Many ATs, who appealed against their grade 5 statuses in 2007, have had their appeals delayed awaiting the outcome of a review the University is undertaking. One AT states that there is, “little or no information about how those appeals will be handled and [most] are still working at a grade below that of the work they actually do.” The UCU said it is, “manifestly apparent that they haven’t addressed the concerns” and they have “not involved the UCU or HR (human resources) in any negotiations.” The UCU further comments that there has been a “chronic failure of communication” across many parts of the university.

To add insult to injury there are also ‘absurdities’ in the new multiplier that has been announced. For every 1 hour taught, ATs are paid another 2 hours; 1 for marking and 1 for preparation. Many ATs teach a number of classes and a large amount of students, deeming these hours absolutely incompatible, and consequential to the fact that they continue to go above and beyond of their newly imposed call of their new duty. If students consider how long it takes to read required texts for a seminar, associate tutors (although, not supposed to by their new grading) still read primary and secondary sources and plan the seminar supposedly within the paid hour time slot, which is in practice evidently impossible.

Ironically, this dispute has come at a time when feedback and teaching is top of the university’s agenda. Laura Tazzioli, President of the USSU says that, “The University of Sussex is trying to improve the quality of feedback and assessments that students receive. But clearly, if staff are underpaid, are not allowed to create their own teaching material, and are not paid to be up to date with knowledge of a subject, then how can they improve the quality of teaching that the university promotes?” She also further comments that, “Students should be behind ATs because it is not their fault if University management don’t understand the necessity of paying fairly and properly.”

Further inequity can be found in HUMS as new and old contracts are paid at different rates across boards leaving an equality gap. Associate tutors, “Will not necessarily be paid the same as a colleague doing exactly the same work.”

Academic jobs are few and far between; many ATs are fearful to stand up for themselves as individuals as they are reliant on references from those whom they are complaining to. They don’t want to, “Talk themselves out of a job.” Whilst the university relies heavily on AT teaching, ATs as individuals are disposable. The longer the review continues to block appeals most will be forced “Bury their head in sand” or even leave teaching altogether.

ATs are sincerely adamant that they want students to have the best education but at the same time want to be paid for it: “We don’t expect to get rich through teaching, we just want to have the work we do acknowledged, and to be paid a decent wage for it.”

This key dispute over inequality and outright unfairness dwells upon the fundamental issues of what the university is really about and what it aims to be. The standard of education that students are paying large fees for, will in consequence not be received if nothing is done to change the grading and pay of associate tutors.

As part of the UCU national ‘Stamp out Casualisation day’ there is an associate tutor rally between 1 and 2 pm in Library Square on Wednesday 3 December. Students are encouraged to show their support to protect their own education and the future of higher education itself.

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  1. As a second year undergraduate student in SOCCUL, the first lecture of each term is often punctuated with the remarks “Don’t come and see me, although I have an office hour, you should really see your tutor”. It’s almost frowned upon wanting to speak with your lecturer! I can’t work out whether they simply don’t have time (which I doubt) or whether it’s born out of snobbery. Either way, I’ve had ATs bend over backwards to help me, and my fellow students have experienced much the same. To me, ATs seem to take on the bulk of the work in our courses – they openly welcome students in their office hours, as well as out of hours, will happily go over essay plans with students, talk at length about a course related issue, they even go to our lectures! I can’t fathom why the University undervalues these individuals when they’re regarded as almost an invaluable resource by many 1st and 2nd year students. This doesn’t mean to say that my comments are representative of all lecturers, but my experience at Sussex suggests that ATs take on the majority of work, and lecturers swan in for a 50 minute lecture, only to find it to be an inconvenience when you ask to see them! Support ATs – without them, we’d be nowhere.

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