By Tomás Heneghan
Precarious employment at UL is to become a major issue for postgraduate students and student tutors over the coming year.
The issue was raised two weeks ago at the Faculty of Arts Humanities and Social Sciences (AHSS) Board meeting on Wednesday 21st October.
This follows moves to reform the UL Workplace Watch group in UL, which was originally established in October 2014.
At the meeting, Professor Tom Lodge, Dean of AHSS explained that hourly pay is roughly, although not exactly, equal across departments.
However the Postgraduate Students’ Union (PSU) Faculties Representative, Declan Mills explained at a PSU Executive meeting that anecdotal evidence of pay-scales suggested a range of pay from €12 per hour to €25 per hour, depending on department.
Mr Mills told the PSU Executive meeting however that he would confirm this and present it again to the Executive when it meets next.
On the issue of disparities between duties assigned to tutors, Prof Lodge said he could not make different departments all conform to the same standard in terms of what duties they require from tutors.
This is a result of departments having different needs and following differing teaching styles. However Prof Lodge explained that he was happy to provide the PSU with copies of each department’s standards so that tutors may have a benchmark and know what is required of them.
Professor Lodge also explained at the Board meeting that he led the awarding of Teaching Fellowships as a way of attracting new high-calibre PhD candidates to the university as required by the Strategic Plan and the draft Research Strategic Plan.
Mr Mills responded that this was understandable as people who had been on their PhDs for longer than five or six years are often not being used as tutors as they are trying to complete their studies.
However Mr Mills also said the policy means that people who started their PhDs within the last three years – who were also for the most part given hard deadlines of four years to complete their research – are bearing the brunt of unpaid teaching, non-contracted teaching, cuts to hourly pay and the issue of pay which only recognises classroom hours rather than including admin or support work.
He also raised the possibility that this excess workload was impacting on PhD candidates’ ability to focus on research in the early years of their PhD, which in turn would feed into the issue with Irish Research Council.
Professor Lodge welcomed any individual postgrads who might wish to approach him if they feel they are being exploited. He explained that he will raise their concerns with their department heads in a way which provides anonymity.
He also invited the PSU to collate anonymous data on postgraduate tutors’ working conditions and grievances and bring this to the attention of a future AHSS faculty board meeting.
Speaking at the recent PSU Executive meeting, Mr Mills suggested that concrete data be brought to the December AHSS Board meeting.
In the meantime, he said, attempts should be made to raise awareness amongst the UL community of how severely these issues are affecting postgraduates and the negative knock-on impact they have on the campus community as a whole.
At the AHSS Board meeting concerns relating to the low conversion rate of Irish Research Ccouncil applications into funding were also raised.