Cambridge lecturers accuse university of ‘explosive workload’ University of Cambridge
Lecturers at Cambridge University have accused the institution of pressuring them to take on an “explosive workload” to deliver their famous one-to-one classes.
A survey of University Teaching Officers (UTOs) by the University and College Union Branch found that a third (35%) felt they would accept requests from peers and supervisors, additional weekly tutorials, or “supervisions” as they are called, to accept, could not refuse. although almost half of those surveyed stated that they wanted to deliver fewer of them.
Michael Abberton, the President of UCU’s Cambridge branch, said: “The surveillance system as it is currently structured is not working for anyone. It exploits casual workers who need to earn an income and gain teaching experience. It overwhelms permanent employees who are already under the pressure of an explosive workload.
“The university and colleges can no longer deny that the system urgently needs reform, with improvements in pay, contracts and training for undergraduate supervisors.”
A spokesman for Cambridge University said the system gives supervisors the flexibility to choose which and how many colleges they work with and how long they work, while providing education free of charge and average pay being “well above living wage”. .
He added that “because colleges are legal and financial employers, they cannot be covered by a single agreement”.
Nearly three-quarters (73%) of UTOs surveyed by UCU reported doing more than five hours of supervision per week in addition to their full-time curriculum, with an average preparation time of around 20 hours. Half said they worked more than 50 hours and 21% more than 60 hours a week, with some saying they were prevented from doing the research needed to further their academic careers.
A humanities UTO who spoke to the Guardian said it had come under pressure from colleagues who warned the courses would not remain viable and “to stay in the good graces of senior colleagues”, particularly given the “unspoken expectation.” “, that younger colleagues would look after more, so that she only has three weeks for research.
Fifty-six per cent of respondents also complained about the low remuneration of £31 per hour of supervision which does not cover preparation. The union estimates that in some cases this amounts to an hourly rate at or below the minimum wage.
The survey builds on research from last year that found that while Cambridge advertises prospective supervision as a core feature of its world-leading teaching model, much of it is offered on the basis of the ‘gig economy’. Almost a third (28%) is provided by visiting faculty members who have a secure contract with the university, while almost half (45%) is provided by precariously employed staff.
This month, staff at UK universities began a 10-day strike over pay, pensions, uncertain contracts and deteriorating working conditions.
Supervisors also said the “Byzantine” nature of the university structure – in which the central university organizes oversight for some subjects and year groups and the individual colleges for others – is partly to blame for the lack of transparency about the different pay rates.
“There’s nothing sane about Cambridge, it’s a product of history and changing government regulations and different forms of influence. There is no other way to understand this than being in the institution and navigating it,” said Graham Denyer Willis, a UTO who said “extreme oversight” had marred his career.