Professor Shitij Kapur
Professor Rachel Mills
Senior Vice President Academic
Mr Steve Large
Senior Vice President for Operations
Professor Adam Fagan
Vice President for Education & Student Success
King’s College London
5 December 2022
We are writing in our capacity as representatives of the Postgraduate Research (PGR) Student community in our College to raise our concerns about the current situation PGRs are facing as Graduate Teaching Assistants (GTAs) and Research Assistants (GRAs) at King’s College London (KCL). After surveying and consulting with current GTAs, we would like to make the following suggestions for improvement:
First, the current cost of living crisis in the UK particularly affects low-income workers such as PGRs at King’s College London. Many PGRs at KCL depend on their income from GTA or GRA work to make ends meet in London. However, the current hourly pay rate is insufficient to offset rising inflation, rent, and energy costs. We believe KCL should adjust the hourly pay rate proportional to the level of inflation in the United Kingdom in line with the University and College Union demands.
Second, we recognise that the King’s Teacher’s platform has improved clarity regarding contracts and transparency about worked hours. And we are grateful to the project team at King’s for listening to our suggestions and feedback on the system. Yet, King’s Teachers remains counterintuitive, which has led to great confusion and, in some cases, to an under-registration of the working hours. Thus, we ask for a comprehensive review of King’s Teachers to make it more straightforward and intuitive to use and less labour-intensive for GTAs.
Third, we have found that module designs differ substantially, creating uneven workloads for GTA reading preparation, student feedback and marking across KCL. In addition, the number of students per seminar/tutorial/laboratory hour has increased, incrementing the number of hours for student feedback, and marking. As a result, many GTAs work more hours than expected. Thus, we maintain that GTAs should be paid more for working beyond reasonable parameters. We care about our students but require fair conditions to prepare, teach, assist, and mark them appropriately. We request addressing these by revising the education provision policies related to GTA’s working conditions and a full review of the GTA framework with elected GTA representatives present to account for the differences in module design. On top of that, we ask education committees in faculties and departments to standardise parameters for preparation, student feedback, and marking to avoid excessive or unpaid labour for GTAs.
Fourth, we have found cases of PGRs carrying out unpaid research assistant duties for other academic staff. These include administrative tasks, public engagement events, thesis supervision, and interviewing new academic staff. Recognising this labour as a new Graduate Research Assistant (GRA) work figure is necessary. In addition, GRAs work should be regulated in a GRA Framework, similar to the GTA Framework, detailing clearly what tasks and duties should be paid, and which do not correspond to PGRs.
Fifth, as we have mentioned in previous iterations of our campaign, many of these problems originate in KCL policy implementation without consultation of GTAs and GRAs. Many of the issues indicated in this letter and the annexed report could have been avoided by consulting GTAs before implementing the new system. Thus, we ask to grant a seat to the elected GTA representatives in the College Education Committee and any projects impacting GTA working conditions. Furthermore, there should be GTAs in the Education Committees at the faculty or departmental levels. Similarly, we demand a permanent seat for a newly elected representative of GRAs on the College Research Committee to address their concerns regarding their working conditions. Our presence in those groups will help sort problems regarding GTAs and GRAs and increase the quality of education provided for students at KCL.
Sixth, unfortunately, we have also found that GTAs are still not consistently treated as full staff at King’s College London. As we are demanding in our Pandemic Work Recognition Reward for ALL PhD Students campaign, we believe all PhDs faced difficult teaching and research conditions during the pandemic. However, as Principal Shitij Kapur informed us by email on 29 June 2022: “Graduate Teaching Assistants (GTAs) who have worked between 1 September 2021 and 31 July 2022 will receive £250. The one-off payment is not pensionable and will be included in the 27 July payroll for those that are eligible.”, while the rest of the staff received £500 or more. We demand the same recognition as the rest of KCL’s staff.
Our demands are reasonable. PGRs that have chosen to teach to complement their income and gain professional academic experience deserve fair treatment at KCL. PGRs are the future of academia and Higher Education. Therefore, the GTA and GRA experience should be positive and not reproduce the practices of exploitation that our sector incurs too frequently. We want to work towards an understanding to improve this step in our academic careers. In that regard, we endorse the University and College Union Manifesto 2021 to recognise Postgraduate Researchers as Staff and recommend signing this proposal.
Where possible, we are happy to support KCL in meeting our requests as soon as possible.
Roger Carles Fontana
Raúl Zepeda Gil
Graduate Teaching Assistants Lead
King’s Doctoral Students’ Association