In many ways, the University relies on the commitment of its postgraduates in order to exploit them more effectively. You believe that your students are worth more than 20 minutes of feedback; you spend more time marking their essays than you get paid to. You care about the quality of your tutorials; you will spend longer preparing for them than you are paid to. Etc. etc. If we worked to rule, standards would plummet.
I know that this marking boycott is going to be hugely frustrating for many of the students I teach. They’ve dedicated hours of their lives to turning these essays in on time, and now the pile sits forlornly in a plastic tray on my desk. I have looked over some of them, but my pen remains untouched. It is the same impulse: I will mark them well when the time comes; I will not touch them now. And there is no hypocrisy therein. Both are acts done because we believe in teaching; we believe in the quality of education, and we believe in the right of lecturers to grow old teaching well without fear.
Aren’t you just being selfish, some hypothetical student might ask me? No. To be brutally honest, looking at the way things stand, I am unlikely ever to get a state pension. I’m 26. I’m not pondering about my retirement. Not yet.
Why then? To me it is quite simple. For those older staff whose pensions are directly threatened, this is a case of losing a lot of money, money that has been saved up over years. That’s not fair. But this is about more than that. It is about protecting the rights of staff to a decent wage and a decent future. Increasingly, the University is saving money by relying on the temporary nature of employment (as tutors on what are effectively dressed up zero hours contracts, we are evidence of this). This one issue may not directly hurt us, but it is part of a bigger picture, and we are part of that picture. And if you are a student, so are you. Making employment more precarious is a tried and tested way of weakening your employees, forcing them to do more, and converting the immiseration of teachers into the profit of the institution.
Increasingly, the University is becoming a precarious place to work. And if we let them, the management will follow this trend to its logical conclusion: a situation in which we are all competing, all of the time, to stay in our jobs. We will be trying to teach, and we will be living lives not worth teaching.
(Hamish Kallin. PHD tutor. Institute of Geography)