Teaching is not its own reward: Durham University in unpaid jobs row

Durham is advertising for PhD students to teach "voluntary" courses - for free
  • @Tom_Mendelsohn

Durham University has been engulfed in a row about how it pays its junior academics, after it was caught advertising “voluntary” - unpaid - teaching jobs on its website.

Teaching is not its own reward: Durham University in unpaid teaching rowThe university’s Theology and Religion department is offering what it calls a “voluntary development opportunity” for PhD students, who wish to gain “valuable experience of designing and delivering an entire short taught course”.

UCU, a union that represents academic staff at universities, has condemned Durham’s stance, and insists that all teaching work, but especially that which requires preparation work, should be remunerated.

Jon Bryan, a regional support official for UCU’s northern office, called the situation “shameful”.

“Paying postgraduate students appropriately for designing and delivering a short course was something we thought that we could all agree on, but apparently not,” he said.

“At a time when Durham charges the full £9,000 fees for undergraduates, those who attend these seminars would be expecting some of that money to reward those who are designing and teaching these short courses. The fact that they are not being paid for doing that job for the University is shameful.”

According to the job advert, the courses would be taught by doctoral students, running an “extracurricular course” one hour a week for four weeks. Though the department is offering to “support” the participants, the only apparent benefit for them is “career development”.

A spokesperson for Durham claimed that the seminars had been set up due to “demand from our postgraduate students, who wanted to broaden their teaching experience for their own professional development”. 

She said: “Participation is entirely voluntary and feedback has been positive from both the postgraduates designing and delivering the courses and the undergraduates who take them.   

“A wide range of paid teaching assistant opportunities are also available within the department.”

Bryan confirmed that the university seemed to have no intention to pay these volunteers, adding that UCU will continue to oppose the policy, and “seek to get the work properly remunerated”.

He said: “The university may justify not paying the work by saying that it is ‘development opportunity’ but that is no excuse. For UCU, that justification just doesn’t wash.”

The advert is online here