Graduate History students release open letter to Faculty protesting unpaid teaching

Image credit: Johannes Black

Graduate students in History have released an open letter with 157 signatures to the Faculty, asking for an end to unpaid graduate teaching which has allegedly been occurring in the Historical Argument and Practice (HAP) course.

A letter signed by a significant number of graduate students in History cites concerns with the HAP course, which is a compulsory undergraduate course comprising 20% of students’ final grade. The HAP scheme is a particularly valuable teaching experience because institutions outside Oxbridge tend notto  rate one-to-one teaching experience highly, whereas HAP is taught in small seminar groups, which is a skill more valued by employers. The History Faculty has been recruiting a large proportion of the face-to-face seminar teaching for this unit from unpaid graduate students, and proposes to extend this unpaid teaching to lectures in the upcoming academic year. 

The Faculty does not currently pay its graduate students on the basis that it is part of training for their future academic careers. However, the open letter claims that this is unlike any schemes implemented elsewhere within the University, and is not a widely supported model throughout higher education more generally. It also states that its existence is similar to attempts elsewhere in employment to undercut wages and conditions.

The writers estimated that the costs of providing all graduate students a salary for their work on the HAP course would be £3,500 total per year. This assessment is based on other graduate wages within the University.

TCS received comment from a PhD History student, who points out that "Cambridge in general lacks systematic opportunities for graduate teaching, in the humanities, and anyone doing a PhD with the ultimate goal of pursuing an academic career knows that without teaching experience you simply won't be hired in most teaching posts... Schemes like HAP are really precious and important, and we wouldn't want to see them go. At the same time, though, we don't want to normalise the fact that what we do is not worthy of payment, just because we are desperate enough to do it even for free".

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