Edinburgh University under fire over job which stops lecturers' pay over the summer

Academics have penned an open letter to Edinburgh University.
Academics have penned an open letter to Edinburgh University.
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Academics from across Scotland have joined together to protest at attempts by a university to recruit a lecturer on a contract that does not pay them over the summer break.

The post, in the English Literature department at the University of Edinburgh, was advertised as being “pay suspended” over the summer months of July and August due to it being a teaching only - rather than research - post.

The letter to the university’s human resources department, put together by a group of academics, said: “Anyone who has had any kind of teaching-only position in Higher Education knows that they are always expected to work over the summer. This can include designing and collating module handbooks, teaching preparation, course organisation – all of this is on top of the research that one needs to do in order to get a permanent academic position, research which is often expected by one’s employer, even when one is in a teaching-only position in a research-led department.

“We would be very surprised if the person who was appointed to this position was not expected to do some or all of this over the summer - work for which they would not be paid.”

The letter added: “Additionally, we would remind you that living expenses in Edinburgh increase significantly in the summer, during the very months that you are proposing to suspend pay.

"The appointed person will not only have to do significant amounts of unpaid work for the University, but also have to find alternative employment during these months in order to meet their higher-than-usual expenses.”

The union which represents university academics called on the institution to remove the advert and said it would write to the institution asking it to review its position on ten-month contracts

The post, with a salary of £33,199 to £39,609 per annum, pro rata, was to cover a temporary absence in the department from September this year until December 2020. It said the “pro-active” candidate would need to teach pre-honours and honours courses and requires experience teaching literature from the early modern period through to the eighteenth century. They would also have to supervise undergraduate dissertations “across a range of topics”.

The university later changed the wording of the ad from “suspended pay” to “For the months of July and August working hours will be zero,” but critics said the wording made no difference.

Dr Kate Cross, a psychology lecturer at the University of St Andrews, said: “Genuinely amazed they seem to think that the ‘wording’ was the problem.”
Industrial relations academic Dr Jo Grady urged colleagues to sign the letter.

She said: “Sign this letter and help put pressure on the University of Edinburgh to stop the use of these contracts and exploitation of precarious staff in HE. The use of ‘suspended pay’ is gross, and I’m genuinely disgusted to see it becoming normalised like this.”

University and College Union Scotland official Mary Senior said: "Looking to penny pinch by refusing to pay staff properly sends a terrible message and displays a disregard for what the job entails and the work staff would engage in over the summer. We are also unclear how this advert sits alongside the university’s mission statement to 'provide the highest quality learning and teaching environment'.

"Quite rightly this advert has been attacked by the higher education community and Edinburgh should remove it and ensure all posts are properly remunerated. We are writing to the university today to urge them to review their position on 10-month contracts. UCU has consistently raised this problem with Edinburgh and we were disappointed when the university refused to budge on the issue in our recent negotiations."

A spokesman for the University of Edinburgh said that the correction to the advert meant the the candidate would be paid in even instalments across twelve months, but that the full annual salary would still only total ten months worth of pay.

He said: “We value the work of our teaching fellows. We have recently agreed with the trade unions further improvements around pay and conditions, which mean staff will get a guaranteed salary every month, regardless of the pattern of their work.

"The job advert in question contained an error, which has since been corrected."