On 8 September, the Business School announced a pay cut for all Doctoral Tutors (DTs), the youngest, most diverse, and most precarious of University staff. The cut consisted of a reduction of the hours paid to tutors for each repeated teaching hour from x3 to x2, a pay cut of up to 28%.
But tutors and Sussex UCU fought back: on Friday 17 September, the Dean of the Business School received a formal complaint signed by 34 BS doctoral tutors and supported by Sussex UCU, asking for the withdrawal of the new pay scheme by Friday 24 September, before the beginning of the Autumn term. Almost 400 members of the University of Sussex expressed their support. A month of exchanges -- during which the Dean of the Business School failed to meet either UCU or the DTs in person or online -- ended with a meeting between UCU negotiators and HR and the withdrawal of the new pay scheme!
An unfair decision
Protecting the income of one of the most vulnerable categories of staff in the whole community is crucial. For many tutors, this is their only income. The pay cut would have disproportionately hit international students, whose hours are capped and who therefore have no way of making up lost income. The pay cut was announced too late to find another job. Tutors are predominantly young, with significant representation from female post-graduates, and post-graduates from a non-UK background but no Equality, Diversity and Inclusion assessment was carried out.
The pay cut runs counter to the standard in comparable schools (where a multiplier of x3 is applied) and to the University policy (a x4 multiplier, but including marking).
Doctoral tutors carry out a great deal of the work, such as attending lectures, updating teaching material, offering pastoral care to students, answering their questions, and participating in the design of assessments and modules. Tutors often trade off working to contract and offering students the quality of education they deserve. This pressure affects mental health in a way that cannot be addressed by the “self-care” that we are often pushed to take. Many of the issues are structural, found in a business model that maximises profits, student numbers, and workload.
This decision was not only unfair to the tutors receiving the cut, it was also unfair to those in the institution working to improve NSS scores, particularly in marking and feedback. But more importantly it was unfair to those students who we know benefit from the experience and knowledge of the DTs. This work must be valued and respected. This is why Sussex UCU is supporting the UCU PGR as Staff Manifesto.
Lack of transparency
The whole process has lacked transparency. The pay cut was announced by the Business School “to harmonise and simplify DT hiring, training and work allocation processes across departments”. It was later said that “the intention behind the review of DT processes was genuinely to clarify and harmonise practices across the School, add transparency to the assignment of duties, and provide more flexibility in the assignment of tasks. It was never seen as a way of meeting the School’s savings targets”. However, emails from various insiders reveal that this was in fact a cost-cutting measure, driven by the Size and Shape programme.
We have been asking the School Dean to meet DTs for weeks, in vain. Besides pay, we would like to discuss working conditions. Tutors learn their workload after term has started, making income planning arduous, if not impossible. Also, DT paid hours do not reflect the amount of work required on Online Distance Learning (ODL) modules.
While we celebrate a victory for DTs and UCU, we are eager to engage in further discussion to make our University a fairer place for both staff and students. PGRs from the whole University and UCU are running a campaign to recognise the role of PGRs as members of staff.
To join the PGRs as staff campaign, or to know more about our demands and platform, get in touch with Nathali Arias (N.E.Arias@sussex.ac.uk) or Rob Dickinson (R.Dickinson@sussex.ac.uk).