PhD students take on controversial contract changes

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The Union has been spent this year working with Postgraduate Research (PGR) students on a dispute with the University over a change in teaching and working responsibilities.

In December last year, the University altered teaching contracts for Postgraduate Research Teaching Assistants. At the time, there was no clarity on the amount of hours Assistants could work as Teaching Assistants; the contract change, effective from January 2017, would change this to a cap of six hours per week.

These changes were met with concern from some of the students who would be affected; so much so that students formed their own organising body to challenge the changes. They met with a number of University staff, including Professor Javier Bonet, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Research & Enterprise for the University, and successfully negotiated additional consultation time before the new contracts came into place. They were also advised to work with the University and College Union (UCU) and us, the Students’ Union (SU) on representation for the employment contract issues and regulation changes respectively.

Between February and September, the student committee have been in touch with Vivian Van Lent, our Vice-President Education, about issues relating to the changes in hours and the activities that would relate to in their new contract.

Although the University upheld the six hour cap for Post Graduate Research Teaching Assistants students which was not what was wanted. A number of concessions were made by the University as a direct result of feedback from students via the Students’ Union. 

The University have committed to honouring the following as part of the contract change:

  • The six hour cap is no longer per week, so if a PGR students only works four hours in one week, they can then work 10 the next week.
  • The hourly rate of pay for these contracts has gone up to from £14.46 to £16.68 for Greenwich and Avery Hill, and £11.66 to £14.14 for Medway.
  • PGR students can work up to 20 hours after final submission
  • PGR students can do an additional 4 hours per month ambassadorial work
  • PGR students can support clearing activity
  • Removal of the cap of £6,000 for additional research projects that PGR students support to a 50% of stipend (£13,000) and ensure to raise with inflation
  • The clause in the contract forbidding PGR students working outside of the PGR contract has been removed

These changes were agreed in July this year, and have come into effect in September. The Students’ Union understand this is not the outcome that everyone desired and as such are recommending that PGR students operate with them for a 6 – 12 month period and then formally feedback with the support of the SU to the University.

The Students’ Union is committed to ensure that PGR Students Voices are heard throughout the University and Students’ Union. This issue has highlighted some challenges to our current representation and how PGR students can engage. To better our representation of PGR students in future, we are committing to the following:

  • We’ll review how PGR students are represented in our representation structures
  • Undertake a full democratic review with PGR students representative/s on the working group
  • The VP Education will set a regular six weekly 121 meeting with the Deputy Vice Chancellor, Research and Enterprise
  • Set a PG space within the SU (and new Dreadnought building) for all Postgraduate students
  • PGR student to attend the University’s Research and Enterprise Committee with SU

We hope these recommendations will enable us to develop and grow student representation across our membership.

If there are any further progressions with this matter, we’ll post them here on our website.


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