University employment cap: letter from PhD students

The following letter has been sent to The Student by a group of postgraduate students.  Within they voice their belief in the urgent need for University officials to explain the recent cap on University employment for PhD students.

Dear Senior Vice Principal Prof Charlie Jeffery, Head of Corporate HR Zoe Lewandowski, and Deputy Secretary of Student Experience Gavin Douglas,

This letter springs from concern over the cap on University employment for PhD students.

While we understand that the cap is meant to ensure adequate time for research, the failure to communicate employment practice changes in a clear and timely manner to all PhD students and staff has detrimentally impacted self-funded students who must now find additional paid work.

In response to the College of Arts Humanities and Social Sciences’ 2016 change in practice from a six-hour recommended working cap to an absolute regulation, a survey of PhD students highlighted that self-funded students cannot subsist on so few hours of paid work, and restriction from other University jobs forced them to seek alternative employment with less flexibility, less pay, less relevance, and in less convenient locations.

Many students discovered the six hour fixed cap when they were prevented from accepting positions, and shortly before the start of term when they learned that, in order to teach the following semester, they must end or renegotiate their contracts.

Part-time study is an answer for some, but not for those with visa limitations.

Given these and other difficulties for students who started their programmes thinking they would have the opportunity to gain valuable teaching experience and that the University would not limit their employment, the fixed six-hour cap was relaxed to a nine-hour average in September 2017.

This now University-wide practice is an improvement on the six-hour cap but does not improve the situation of most students.

Clear and timely communication would lessen the adverse effects of a working cap that prior to 2016 was a recommendation only.

We urge the University to operate with transparency, clarity, and consistency.

We urgently request direct communication via email from the administration to all relevant staff and PhD students linking to the new ‘Policy for the recruitment, support and development of tutors and demonstrators’, or via Heads of Schools.

To ensure consistent interpretation, HR must clearly explain in this communication how key elements of the policy should be implemented.

The nine-hour average working cap must be highlighted to all prospective PhD students to inform their decision about the feasibility of studying at the University of Edinburgh.

Bobi Archer, Vice President Education for Edinburgh University Students’ Association, has said, ”We’re pleased to see the University increase the working hours cap in response to the student voice, which is a step in the right direction.

“However, it is of utmost importance that current and prospective students are notified of the cap’s existence. We are therefore supportive of the measures outlined above to ensure that expectations are clear and transparent to students.”

This letter is a continuation of views expressed by PhD students, postdoctoral tutors, University staff and Student’s Association Postgraduate Officers to the Task Group on the Code of Practice for Tutors and Demonstrators over the 2016/17 year.

We are committed to our PhD responsibilities and wish to ensure future PhD students do not experience anxiety and financial precarity due to unexpected changes in University practices. We trust in the University’s commitment to student wellbeing and look forward to having these issues resolved.

Yours sincerely,

Fabio Battaglia, Postgraduate Research Students Representative

Ian Boyd, History, Classics and Archaeology Postgraduate School Representative

Justin Ho, Social and Political Science Postgraduate School Representative

Laura McKenzie, Education Postgraduate School Representative

Candice Mathers, Philosophy, Psychology and Languages Postgraduate School Representative

James Puchowski, Literatures, Languages and Cultures Postgraduate School Representative

Ewin Teo, Business School Postgraduate Representative

Andrew Waddington, Health in Social Sciences Postgraduate School Representative

Shona Warwick, Law Postgraduate School Representative

 

Image: Sara Konradi

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