The SCUDD perspective

by H. P. Sauce

In November last year I wrote to the SCUDD list (an e-mail list for Drama and Performance academics) in order to solicit responses to a Guardian article about hourly paid and insecure academic employment.

Drawing attention to the statistic quoted in the article that ‘more than half of [teaching / research staff] – 53% – manage on some form of insecure, non-permanent contract’, and sharing some of my own experiences, I was interested in hearing what those on the list had to say, offering to collate any messages sent to me off-list in order to grant anonymity to those who wanted it.

A selection of quotes from this contact is presented below.

It is worth emphasising that a common thread of experience, that perhaps acts to enable this kind of employment, is that many of the people on these contracts come from a background of freelancing, where precarity is normalised, even if the pay is often significantly higher as a freelancer.

In my professional freelance work I would be very hesitant to accept such a low rate, and I have led workshops at a number of H.E. institutions all of which were paid at a higher hourly or service-based rate.

For freelancers, casual work in a university appeals because the monthly pay packet offers some increase in security, even though the pay is significantly less than what they’re used to, is only temporarily secure, and there is no official support for maternity / sick leave or other perks (my own experience has seen me lose a year’s work when I contacted the course director at a new place of employment to say that I was unwell and would be unable to come into work that week. By the time I had received the e-mail saying I was no longer required, I had been replaced).

Usually this work has to be supplemented by continuing to freelance, with all the accompanying logistical and emotional issues that accompany simultaneous management of multiple income streams. At least anecdotally, this would appear to be the norm for many academics on temporary contracts, at least within the arts, although further research is needed to see the proportion of academic staff that live in this way.

It’s also not ubiquitous, some casual workers come from a background of having a permanent position but felt that more flexible working arrangements might suit their situation better. With hindsight, this hope proved unfounded:

I left my permanent position after 4 years because I was expected to do my research during my holidays although in my contract research appeared to be an integral part of my position.

In those 4 years I felt not only exploited: I often felt like a commodity. And I feel it now even more as HP Lecturer. I hoped the flexibility as Visiting Tutor would make it possible to find a balance between professional career and teaching: but I was wrong.  I feel that lecturers (HP lecturers like me-in particular) can be used, squeezed to their maximum capacity and replaced. Younger and less experienced tutors will work longer hours for lower fees and that’s what makes Universities’ HR department happy…

… last year I ran a Commedia dell’Arte masterclass. This year the same university called me back but this time they would have paid me as HP tutor- not as one-off masterclass: that is less than half of the year before.

Someone else also wrote of how their freelance experience contrasted with their university work:

Last semester, with a few weeks advance notice, I co-convened, lectured and taught an entire undergraduate module on an hourly Graduate Teaching Assistant rate (about £16 per hour). I offered to do the work before I knew that the pay was so low. Silly me. There was no room for negotiation.

I have been a freelancer for over a decade, yet this was the first time I ever felt exploited. I feel so stupid looking back on this. I loved the job, but I hated the way it made me feel – undervalued, exhausted, and broke. I gave that job my very best.

Another complaint raised was around the lack of career progression. From my own experience which, thanks to a very supportive course convenor, is probably better than most, there’s still no default support for research now that I have finished my PhD (I’m thinking quite low grade things like library or JSTOR access, ethics review, training around funding – to be paid to put research projects together is a far-distant fantasy…). I also have no formal opportunity to contribute to course development or take on additional (paid) responsibilities.

Another respondent writes on the gap that appears to be opening up between PhD students and those with a secure academic position:

… from my point of view I haven’t even got to the interview stage yet, and have only seen Birkbeck advertise for hourly paid lectureships in London and the South East.  I am frankly appalled at the level of experience required to be even considered for a teaching role now; there is no distinction between full time, part time, and hourly paid roles in the job descriptions. I completed my PhD a year ago. I have teaching experience, I am published, I have organised research events, and I have secured small amounts of funding for my self-led research projects. None of this makes a dent.

They continue:

The REF is undoubtedly impacting what qualifies as essential criteria i.e. a strong record of research. It seems to me universities have given up on nurturing early career academics and are expecting us to come fully packaged. I believe the first step in alleviating this malaise is to stop counting ourselves as lucky in securing teaching work by recognizing the value we bring to universities and to students. We aren’t lucky; we are skilled practitioners who have worked damn hard in one of the harshest economic and political climates this country has seen for generations.

A number of permanent staff did express their disgust on the list, whilst Stephen Lacey, Chair of SCUDD, also responded. Whilst emphasising that campaigning for good employment practices is first and foremost a role for the unions, he did encourage SCUDD members to get in touch to join an Academic Career Development Committee that SCUDD is setting up with TAPRA and to share any other ideas that might be useful.

It wasn’t much, but it did feel that the issue of casualization, or more specifically the lack of support for post-docs is now, at least, in some small way, on the radar for SCUDD. It will be interesting to see how this develops (if it develops at all).

When fractional work is obtained, something that many of us on casual contracts see as something of a goal, things don’t necessarily improve. Despite a claimed desire for radical politics and social justice, theatre and performance departments are often very conservative in their organisation and enforce a rigid hierarchy.

I have been teaching for nearly 15 years on this basis [on a fractional contract], and there is never any increase in work from year to year (in fact hours get cut incrementally each year). When approached for more work, convenors – all of whom I have worked with extensively over that time – say they will ‘think of you’ if someone drops out of their team. But this never happens because when someone does, it turns out they will have appointed someone they were at college with, or have worked with. I have great student evaluations and very good results, so it’s not that.

In fact, no-one, not even my ex-supervisor, has read – or is even interested in reading – my research… and this means that when it comes to applying for things like Leverhulme there is no-one to write me a reference who is familiar with my research – which is a pre-requisite for their references. I go to conferences at my own expense and make wonderful contacts but our fields are so narrow that there are apparently 80 applications for every job I go for.

I was in the office recently when a colleague, referring to someone new, referred to her as being a ‘proper’ member of staff. There is a culture of status involved here as well as everything else, and this is, for me, the final straw that really makes me feel hopeless. After 15 years, and I am still not considered a ‘proper’ member of staff.

One very valuable response came from the Queen Mary Anti-Casualisation group. They introduced me – and the rest of SCUDD– to FACE, and gave many useful pointers on what action might be taken.

A very useful guide can be found here on the FACE Wiki, but others, not necessarily affiliated to FACE, had some tips:

So, what do I need in order to be part of positive change at my institution? The suggestion of Open Forums is good, but I can’t share my views with colleagues if I can’t afford to be a student rep, nor can I afford to attend events where my views can be heard.

With regard to this particular issue, I was passed some interesting research into the various benefits that course reps receive at a number of institutions. It’s too much to list here, but should anyone be interested, please contact me at hp-sauce@gmx.com and I’ll happily pass it on.

Inevitably, this was a tiny selection of the voices that have a stake in this issue, and whilst the stories individually told are depressingly bleak, I do take comfort in the fact that there are many brilliant minds and a lot of energised souls looking to address this.

This is a battle that can be won, probably not quickly, and definitely not individually, but I do take hope from knowing how many smart people are working together on this.

To finish, one last quote:

Teaching should give us joy, should inspire us all the time not in rare occasions and it should reflect our experience, knowledge and the quality of our work … first of all our pay should be fair!


* It is worth noting that not all the responses I received requested anonymity. However, to avoid drawing particular attention to those who were happy to share their identity, I have decided not to share the names of the five respondents quoted here.

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#UnisResistBorderControls Campaign Zine Project

Three months ago, the Justice4Sanaz campaign launched the #UnisResistBorderControls campaign at SOAS. This urgent campaign brings together grassroots activists and campaigners to oppose widespread abuses against non-EU international students and staff within the British higher education system.

The neoliberal higher education system in the UK is guilty of marginalising non-EU international scholars and students. Universities use non-EU international students, especially those who are Black and people of colour (POC), as “cash cows” to prop up a neoliberal university system that exploits non-EU, EU and British students for their tuition fees. Meanwhile, VCs enjoy pay-rises and inflated six figure salaries. In addition, as Fighting Against Casualisation in Education has consistently shown, the neoliberal higher education system marginalizes lecturers and university workers on casual contracts, contracts which disproportionately affect women, Black people, and POC.

The university also works hand in hand with the Home Office and UK Visa and Immigration (UKVI) to effectively act as border control on campus. Non-EU international students, academics, lecturers and university workers routinely are met with state and institutional violence because of their immigration status. As a result, these groups often feel isolated and marginalised within the Ivory Tower. Both universities and the Home Office use this isolation to further abuse and treat with contempt non-EU international university students and workers. This year, a report showed that Home Office Secretary Theresa May wrongfully deported almost 50,000 non-EU international students. Similarly, reports continue to emerge of non-EU international students and researchers being detained by UKVI and placed into detention centres; see, for example, the case of Dr Paul Hamilton, who was arrested and detained for 10 days at the Morton Hall Immigration Removal Centre with no warning while his application to stay in the UK was in the midst of being processed. Kate Blagojevic from the campaign Detention Action explained in this Guardian piece about Morton Hall,

“People are held without time limit in high-security immigration detention centres such as Morton Hall. Their mental and physical health deteriorates rapidly and they often find it hard to access legal representation. People can be held for months or even years but ultimately don’t know how long they will be locked up for.”

In 2014, the Justice4Sanaz campaign chronicled the exploitation of non-EU students and lecturers alike in a statement published in Ceasefire Magazine. In that statement, which was endorsed by over 100 academics and activists, we implored the UK “to speak out and take the lead as professionals and intellectuals against turning the country’s higher education institutions into a racist money making endeavour, destroying the spirit and integrity of the very idea of knowledge and learning.”

Also in 2014, the National Union of Students (NUS) and the Black Students Campaign (BSC) passed motion 102, entitled, “Black International Students.” In this motion, the NUS and the BSC resolved to support Black international students by creating a “know your legal rights” workshop and to campaign to “eliminate discrimination from any attendance monitoring practices.” However, in the past two years, the NUS and BSC have failed to act on this motion, or to work with grassroots groups to challenge racist and xenophobic policies within higher education institutions and the Home Office.

This brief history shows that while student activists and the public are aware that the current immigration controls affect refugees, asylum seekers and those languishing inside detention centres, very few consider how immigration policy affects non-EU international students, scholars, and university workers. There has been very little done by student and community activists to counter the exploitative surveillance regime instituted by the Home Office. Urgent solidarity and action is needed to protect not only asylum seekers and refugees, but also non-EU international students, scholars, and staff.

In response to this need, on the 5th of March, #UnisResistBorderControls had our first meeting. We were joined by representatives from Movement for Justice By Any Means Necessary, SOAS Justice for Cleaners, Fighting Against Casualisation in Education (FACE), #DontDeportLuqman campaign, and the Save Kelechi campaign along with a barrister specialising in immigration law from Garden Court Chambers, Ms Bryony Poynor, who discussed at length about the changing landscape of immigration laws and policy.

A write up of the meeting can be accessed here.

Three weeks after our meeting, we wrote a statement that was published on Media Diversified and endorsed by over 40 academics and activists, stating:

“#UnisResistBorderControls wants to see a fundamental end to UKVI and PREVENT surveillance and the intimidation of non-EU international students, scholars and university workers. We want to see universities and unions take a strong stand against such policies and to cease using these racist and xenophobic measures to disenfranchise and marginalize non-EU international students, scholars, and university workers. We want to see provisions in place for non-EU internationals to be able to seek recourse against their higher education institutions without it affecting their visa-status and/or having their precarious immigration status repeatedly threatened. We call on British students, lecturers and university workers to not collude or be complicit with the border controls culture on university campuses. #UnisResistBorderControls stands in solidarity with Luqman Onikosi (#DontDeportLuqman), Kelechi Chioba (#SaveKelechi), Lord Elias Mensah Apetsi (#SaveLord), Sanaz Raji (#Justice4Sanaz) and the many other non-EU international students, scholars and university workers who are not publicly known, but are oppressed by both Home Office violence and exploitation by their universities. End border controls and the culture of surveillance on our campuses!”

As the next step in our campaign, #UnisResistBorderControls will assemble a zine in which non-EU international students, academics and university workers outline their experiences within higher education and with the Home Office. The zine will also include a “know your legal rights” section.

With the support of FACE, we are collecting testimonies, stories and art work from non-EU international students, lecturers, and university workers who have face institutional and state violence to include in this zine. We plan to publish the zine in the 2016-2017 academic year.

Topics for discussion in this zine include:

– Racism and xenophobia on and off campus

– Being denied the right to rent because of your visa status and/or having difficulties in finding a place to rent because you are non-EU international (especially Black and POC)

– Home Office & UK Visa and Immigration

– Sexism & Sexuality

– Disability discrimination

– Employment discrimination

– Lack of academic and pastoral support

– Mental health issues

– Bullying and mobbing in higher education

Please send your testimonies, stories, and artwork that might relate to any of the topics outlined above. Please indicate in your message if you would like to have your name cited with your contribution, or if you would prefer to remain anonymous. Finally, please include the university at which the incident occurred, along with your course (BA/BS, MA/MS or PhD). Send all materials to: unisresistbordercontrols@gmail.com.

Photo: UK Border, Terminal 4, London Heathrow by David McKelvey

FACE opposes the Green Paper!

The Higher Education Green Paper will intensify existing processes of casualisation, which we know damages the relationship between lecturers and students and makes it harder to achieve true teaching ‘excellence’. The for-profit ‘private providers’ that the Green Paper wants to encourage to take over both HE institutions and individual courses will inevitably employ more staff on short term, insecure and zero hours contracts. This will further undermine national bargaining and pay scales and ultimately the ability of the union to act collectively on behalf of the academic workforce as a whole.

The vague proposal for one of the metrics for the Teaching Excellence Framework to be based upon how much teaching is done by permanent staff is nothing more than window dressing. It is embedded with a wider and much more profound project to privatise the university system as a whole. Such privatisation has always gone hand in hand with casualisation, a process which will not be halted even if the above proposal should be included in the final TEF. Casualisation not only blights the lives of academic workers who don’t know where next year’s income will be coming from, it also means they do not stay at institutions long enough to build meaningful relationships with students and are required to teach courses without adequate preparation time. Under such conditions even the most talented and dedicated lecturers are prevented from doing their best for students. The way to ensure genuine ‘quality’ teaching is to pay lecturers a decent wage on secure contracts, and give us enough time and resources to support our students in striving for excellence.

The 6 Universities Relying Most on Teaching-only Staff

Birkbeck, the University of West London (UWL) and the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) top the list of institutions relying heavily on junior-grade, teaching-only staff, according to figures obtained by Fighting Against Casualisation in Education (FACE). At Birkbeck, more than a third of recorded academic staff are teaching fellows or teaching assistants, compared to a sector-wide average of less than one in ten, with UWL close behind at 32 per cent. SOAS and the University of Kent both employ 29 per cent of their academic staff on junior-grade, teaching-only contracts, while at the University of Essex and the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) the figure is a quarter.

Institution Percentage Absolute number
Birkbeck 33% 315
University of West London 32% 275
SOAS 29% 155
University of Kent 29% 545
University of Essex 25% 265
LSE 25% 385
Sector average 9% 17,165

The data was provided to FACE by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) and is taken from the most recent national Staff Record. It covers non-clinical, teaching-only staff with at least a Masters degree, employed at contract levels L0 (‘Teaching assistant’) and K0 (‘Teaching fellow’). FACE requested a list of the ten institutions relying most heavily on these contracts, then excluded unrepresentative institutions such as the Open University, specialist colleges with fewer than 100 reported staff and conservatoires.The data excludes staff whose highest qualification is listed as ‘Unknown’, meaning that the real figures are likely even higher.

The HESA Staff Record is compiled from data self-reported by institutions. It does not include staff employed through agencies and other outsourcing firms, even when such companies are consolidated into an institution’s own accounts, or those who are technically self-employed. For obvious reasons, it also excludes those who lack a formal contract of employment, such as Ph.D. students made to teach as a condition of some studentships. As such, the Staff Record systematically underrecords the number of casualised staff in higher education institutions across the UK.

FACE is a network of academic workers organising for grassroots action and fighting for better conditions. Have a look at our seven demands for casualised workers in higher education, or follow us on Twitter for details of our next organising meeting. Everyone is welcome—join us!

Update, 16 March 2016: In a press release responding to a Times Higher Education article on this blog post, a Birkbeck spokesperson claims that including their institution in the table above is unfair, as Birkbeck “employ[s] many part-time teaching staff, who are reported to HESA [the Higher Education Statistics Agency] as “typical”; whereas most institutions record part-time staff as “atypical”, rendering them invisible in this data.’ This is misleading. According to HESA’s own guidance, ‘atypical’ contracts must meet one of the following four criteria: ‘Are for less than four consecutive weeks’; ‘Are for one-off/short-term tasks’ (examples given include ‘answering phones during clearing, staging an exhibition, organising a conference’); ‘Involve work away from the supervision of the normal work provider’; ‘Involve a high degree of flexibility often in a contract to work as-and-when required’. FACE finds the claim that institutions are reporting large numbers of their teaching staff  (who almost by definition have fixed, timetabled duties lasting longer than four weeks) in this category to be questionable at best, particularly when there exists a separate category for ‘fixed-term’ employees. The broader issues around the HESA Staff Record’s reliability were acknowledged in our original post.

Photo: Senate House, by Steve Parker.


  1. The excluded institutions are as follows: Open University, 63 per cent; Heythrop College, 34 per cent; Royal Academy of Music, 24 per cent; Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, 23 per cent.

The latest on TeachHigher: Breaking News!

A statement from the Warwick UCU committee and the Warwick Hourly-Paid Working Group – copied from the No To Casualisation Warwick blog

Are you up for the demo on Friday 19 June?
(12pm at Library Road)

Can you spare an hour to make a poster/banner?
(Wednesday 17 June from 4-7pm)

Or distribute flyers?
(Wednesday 3 June at 12pm at Library entrance)

National Support for Warwick UCU’s Campaign against TeachHigher

Last weekend, UCU Congress (the body which decides UCU policy for the whole of the UK) voted to campaign against TeachHigher – see motion 66A.1 here. In a letter to Nigel Thrift, Michael MacNeil, National Head of Bargaining and Negotiations, calls it “an issue of national importance for the whole union”. UCU have reported Warwick’s story here and here.

Staff and Student Demonstration against Casualisation and TeachHigher

Please support the demonstration on Friday 19 Junefurther details here. Alongside the usual elements (a march and a rally), there’ll be lots of creative activities highlighting the human cost of casual contracts – watch out for “Sticky Floor”, “Twins” and “The Alternative Campus Guide”. UCU branches from all over the country are coming as are staff from UCU Head Office.

History and Film and TV Studies join English in voting not to use TeachHigher

Two more departments have exercised their democratic right and voted to reject TeachHigher at a departmental meeting. Please try to do the same in your own department. Contact the committee via administrator@warwickucu.org.uk if you need help with this.

Boycott of pilot by Sociology tutors

22 tutors in the Sociology department emailed Professor Solomos (Head of Department) and Jackie Smith (Director of Administration for Sociology, PAIS and Philosophy) on 27 May saying they won’t apply for sessional work via TeachHigher next academic year. Read the email in full here. About a third of all teaching in Sociology is done by sessional tutors.

Concerns expressed by 68 members of staff in PAIS

68 members of staff have written a series of emails to Professor Chris Hughes (Head of Department) and Jackie Smith (Director of Administration) outlining their concerns. The group includes people from all ranks of the academic ladder showing this is an issue affecting all of us. Approximately 53% of all UG teaching in PAIS is done by sessional tutors, 30% by teaching fellows on temporary contracts, and 17% by permanent staff members.

Student Union overwhelmingly rejects TeachHigher despite  management reassurances

The SU invited management to an Open Meeting about TeachHigher on 14 May. You can hear an audio recording here. The students were not reassured. A week later, they voted overwhelmingly to “reject TeachHigher and demand in its place a universal contract system that values and not exploits hourly-paid teachers”. Read the full motion and result here.

Why are staff and students from all over the country coming together to oppose TeachHigher?

  1. There is still a lack of clarity about TeachHigher. The website says it’s “an internal academic recruitment and administration services” and that the pilot will involve seven departments (Sociology, Philosophy, Politics and International Studies, Chemistry, Mathematics, the School of Modern Languages and Cultures, and the Centre for Lifelong Learning). This leaves unanswered important questions about its reporting structures, its business model and its longer-term aims. Similarly, the relationship between TeachHigher and Warwick Employment Group, a University of Warwick subsidiary, remains opaque. TeachHigher used to be listed as the sixth brand on WEG’s webpage, alongside Unitemps and jobs.ac.uk – now there’s just an awkward gap in the bottom right-hand corner. Check it out here. Given how much things keep changing, without any explanation, who could blame us for being sceptical?
  2. UCU and the Hourly-paid Working Group have not been consulted at any point.
  3. The original terms and conditions were deeply concerning because the “candidate” could be dismissed at any time without reason. We know nothing about the revised terms and conditions because we have been excluded from the drafting process. We believe they will still offer a contract for services, denying hourly-paid staff basic employment rights.
  4. Warwick already has one of the highest casualisation rates in the whole sector and TeachHigher will do nothing to ameliorate this dubious distinction. Instead, it will almost certainly make the situation worse in the next five to ten years.
  5. TeachHigher makes it possible for HR personnel with no academic training or specialist expertise to recruit teachers and researchers. Potentially, under the new scheme, HR could bypass departmental preferences and take full control of the hiring process and the staffing of modules. This isn’t going to happen this year or next, but who’s to say it won’t happen further down the line?
  6. Similarly, TeachHigher makes it easier for Warwick central management to recruit ever larger numbers of hourly-paid and casualised staff to teach modules and do piecemeal research, while continuing to reduce the number of secure, open-ended positions. Again, this isn’t going to happen immediately, but it’s a real concern for the future.

What’s the alternative?

  1. Halt the pilot; engage in meaningful discussion with UCU and other groups most affected;
  2. Place hourly-paid staff on fractional contracts that give them the same pay, conditions and rights as those on open-ended contracts.
Produced by the Warwick UCU committee and the Hourly-Paid Working Group.
29 May 2015

 

Model motion for national demonstration against TeachHigher

Anti-casualisation activists at Warwick have published the following model motion on their blog (No To Casualisation Warwick) – please propose it in your union branches to support the national demo against TeachHigher on 19 June and fund travel for delegations to attend it! The demo has already been backed by Warwick UCU and by a vote of UCU’s National Congress. See you there!


Branch notes:

  1. Post-secondary education is being fundamentally reorganised around the use of casual contracts. Up to one third of staff in HE and FE are on non-permanent contracts.
  2. Casual workers are paid significantly less, have no job security, and limited career development opportunities.
  3. Recent campaigns have won secure status or improved pay and conditions for casual workers. Examples include campaigns against ZHC at Edinburgh, and for better conditions for cleaners and fractional staff at SOAS.
  4. However, to avoid offering regular employment contracts, Warwick University is creating a new ‘internal academic recruitment and administration service’ – piloted at Warwick but with the intention of franchising at universities across the UK. TeachHigher will employ hourly paid staff on worse terms and conditions than they currently endure at Warwick

Branch believes:

  1. Casualisation is an attack on our basic employment rights, and is a central issue and needs to be addressed by every UCU branch.
  2. TeachHigher is a threat not just to Warwick staff but to everyone working at UK universities – both implicitly through setting a dangerous precedent, and explicitly through its plans for franchise.
  3. It is possible to reverse this trend towards casualisation.
  4. However, if outsourcing teaching to agencies is entrenched, it will institutionalise a two-tier academic workforce and permit further outsourcing of academic staff.

Branch resolves:

  1. To oppose TeachHigher and support the national demonstration against it, supported by Warwick UCU, on 19th June at 12 noon, Library Road, Warwick Campus Cv4 7AL.
  2. To organise a delegation of [your branch] members to attend and to donate £X towards travel costs to demo.

More info here.

Facebook event here.

Open Organising Meeting: 6pm Tuesday 26 May, KCL

Please join us at our next open organising meeting! There’s plenty to discuss, including the national demonstration against TeachHigher and “insourcing” at Warwick, organising our next major gathering, and more, so please come along – and let’s try and make sure as many campuses’ campaigns are represented as possible!

6pm Tuesday 26 May
Kings College London (room TBC)
Please invite friends and colleagues via Facebook

Apologies – this was previously posted incorrectly as 24 May. The meeting will take place on Tuesday 26 May.