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Democracy

Postgraduate Officer:
Andrew Thompson

Andrew Thompson is the SU's Postgraduate Officer.

Blog

  • Thu 16 Apr 2015 13:54

    Over the past 18 months, the SU have been vocal and critical about how the University treats postgraduates who teach, feeding in all of the concerns that our PGs who teach raise. These include a lack of fairness in how some people do not get the opportunity to even apply for roles within their department, a lack of any training or recognition in any kind from the University on the development that PGs who teach undergo, the lack of transparency in terms of what is being expected of postgraduates for the pay they receive, and the low-levels of pay that postgraduates receive for the work they do.

    The current system that the University has been using to employ postgraduates who teach is not transparent, it is not consistent across departments, and there are so many opportunities within it for postgraduates to be taken advantage of in a whole manner of aspects from hours they are pressurised to work, to being paid an absolute pittance in some departments. At the moment departments inform HR who they want and for how many hours they should be paid, with the University not able to have much oversight on whether postgraduates are being treated fairly; some departments do not follow national pay scales or allow for preparation time in their pay. This is not fair.

    A lot has been written on social media and in the press about TeachHigher, which the University claims would ease some of the arbitrary practices highlighted above. Rightly, members of the SU have been concerned what this new organisation is and how it would impact on working conditions and the quality of teaching. The University has failed in its duty to keep our members properly informed and this has led to confusion and uncertainty.

    This week I finally got the chance to sit down with HR and TeachHigher to raise many of the concerns that have been aired by our postgraduates who teach here at Warwick. I have managed to get verbal clarification, and we are seeking it in writing, on the following:-

     

    ·      TeachHigher is to be an Academic Services Department, which is part of the University and will come under Registrar Ken Sloan. TeachHigher will not be separate from the University.

    ·      PGs who teach will be on National pay scales. Postgraduates register online on the TeachHigher website, sign a temporary worker agreement, and then they sign an assignment agreement for each assignment they do, allowing complete transparency for postgraduates what they are going to be paid for, with preparation time to be included by departments in the assignment agreement. These assignment agreements will be for a set number of hours over a set period of time (for example, over two academic terms); the agreement will have a total number of hours which are broken down into hours of teaching, hours of preparation, and time for any other activity that it is agreed postgraduates who teach should be paid. The SU disagrees with the university that these assignments agreements or “Agreements of Engagements” will not be contracts of employment.

    ·      PGs who have had existing agreements, and who will be continuing to work in those TeachHigher pilots, will be assessed on an individual basis by HR to see if they should continue with their present arrangements, be signed up to TeachHigher, or move on to a regular contract.

    ·      Everyone that is employed through TeachHigher will also have access to funded Continuing Professional Development (CPD), exactly what form this takes is under review as they survey what sort of CPD to offer, but it is going to be tailored to all individuals.

    ·      PGs will have the right to join trade unions and take part in legitimate industrial action, along with permanent staff.

    ·      In terms of TeachHigher actually being in action, it is going to be piloted over the 2015-2016 Academic Year in seven different departments across the University. The University is going to set up a monitoring group to review and monitor the department, and we have made sure that the SU Postgraduate Officer, and a postgraduate who teaches from each of the pilot departments involved will be on that group, alongside TeachHigher, HR and representatives from the departments.

    ·      The Temporary Worker agreement which was on the TeachHigher website is currently being reviewed and rewritten. I have highlighted particularly our concerns over the inclusion of a clause terminating any assignment without notice, and the lack of any mention of the promised CPD.

    ·      I also raised the concerns that students have raised with regards to the issue of TeachHigher being a franchise. The University have said that they may put out the TeachHigher name and the system for franchise, but only if the pilot is successful.

     

    The SU will closely monitor TeachHigher to ensure that conditions offered are as promised and that they will be consistently implemented across the piloted departments. 

    Whilst satisfied that this is not outsourcing, or the formation of a subsidiary, the SU are concerned that this is a continuation of casualisation. The SU agrees with the UCU that PGs who teach should be directly employed by the University, and subject to the same terms and conditions. The SU accepts that TeachHigher does not address this issue of casualisation, but is an opportunity to achieve greater consistency and fairness across the University. The SU will continue to strive for greater transparency, contracts and the protection of pay & conditions for all our members.

    Please feel free to contact me at postgrads@warwicksu.com on this or any other issue that concerns you. 

  • Fri 13 Mar 2015 14:20

    Throughout our time at University, there are many people who make a difference to your journey –how do you thank those people? We’re talking about those who are excellent at teaching you and those that have given you great support in learning during your time at Warwick - the people that make you enjoy learning and want to go to their classes or provide you with interesting discussions.

    The answer is simple - nominate them for a Warwick Award for Teaching Excellence (WATE)!

    Many of you will have postgraduates who teach you. Many of those postgraduates put so many extra hours into making sure that your seminars, lectures, lab demonstrations and project supervision are the best they can be, both before and after the classes and contact hours - and these are often hours that they are not fairly paid for putting in. Now is your chance to recognise how much of a difference they make to your individual Warwick experience and the entire Warwick community as a whole. If you are an undergraduate who has a great postgraduate teacher, I implore you to nominate them for a WATE PGR.

    Each winner will receive £500, and each Commendee £200, while every single nominee will receive a congratulatory letter from Jan Palmowski, the Pro-Vice Chancellor. The deadline for you to nominate someone for a WATE is 25th March - this can be done either by completing an online form which should be emailed to watepgr@warwick.ac.uk, or printing and submitting a Word document to the Learning Development Centre on the first floor of Senate House.

    It will take literally 5 minutes and can make a real difference to those PGs that teach you!

  • Tue 03 Mar 2015 12:02

    For 2015-16 only, the University has launched 125 awards of £10,000 for Taught Masters students, representing over £1.2million of scholarships in total. These scholarships will be available to Home/EU students from under-represented groups who wish to move from an Undergraduate course (for which they were charged the higher tuition fees which began in 2012-13) to a taught Masters course starting in 2015-16.

    From 2016/17, Postgraduate loans, announced in the Chancellor’s Budget in December, will be introduced for Taught Masters courses to students under the age of 30 in England. We don’t yet know all the details of this scheme, but I wrote a blog about the introduction of Postgraduate loans back in January which you can view here.

    While it is perhaps worth noting that these scholarships represent only a first step to widening participation in a much broader context (in that the scheme primarily benefits those able to get into Russell Group institutions in the first instance), they are undoubtedly fantastic news, and demonstrate that the Union is working hard with the University to make sure that this money reaches the students who need it most. These bursaries will be means-tested, and thus not available to everyone - their intention is to help widen Masters participation to students from lower-income backgrounds, while providing funding for who perhaps would not traditionally go onto postgraduate study.

    _____________________________________________________________

    So, supposing you’re awarded one of the £10,000 bursaries, what will that cover?

    For standard fee courses, the scholarship will cover the full cost of 2015-16 tuition fees with a £2,600 bursary for course-related costs. Standard fees for Taught Masters courses for 2015-16 are £7,400.

    For non-standard fee courses, the scholarship will be a contribution towards your tuition fees in the first instance. After the fees have been met, any remaining portion will be paid to you as a bursary.

    To download a table detailing all the postgraduate tuition fee bands, click here.

    _____________________________________________________________

    The University has published a list of eligibility criteria for the scholarships in two parts, and these are as follows:

    Part One

    * Did you start your first undergraduate degree at a UK university in 2012/13?

    * Are your tuition fees between £6,000 and £9,000 per year?

    * Are you graduating in 2014/15?

    * Are you applying for a full-time Masters course, or a part-time Masters course that will be studied over a maximum of 2 years, starting in October 2015?

    * Are you eligible to pay tuition fees at the Home/EU rate?

    * Can you confirm that you do not already hold a Masters or PhD qualification?

    If you have answered yes to all the above questions, you are eligible to move onto section two. If not, you are not eligible to receive the scholarship.

    Part Two

    You must be able to answer yes to at least one of these questions:

    * Are you in receipt of maintenance grant support from the UK government for your undergraduate course?

    * Are you in receipt of special support grant support from the UK government for your undergraduate course?

    * Are you currently in receipt of Disabled Students Allowance, Disability Living Allowance or Personal Independence Payment?

    If you are unable to answer yes to any of these questions, you are not eligible for the scheme.

    (Please note that maintenance grant support is different to a maintenance loan. If in doubt as to whether you’re in receipt of a maintenance grant, check your Student Finance account here)

    _____________________________________________________________


    The application deadline for this scheme is Tuesday 31st March at 5pm. You can find more information and apply by clicking here

  • Thu 05 Feb 2015 10:29

    Warwick SU is currently one of only six Students’ Unions that have a full-time Postgraduate Officer – and, now more than ever, it is so important that we have a full-time position for it. I am Warwick’s third Postgraduate Officer, with the position having been created by the 2011/12 Sabbatical Team in their Democracy Review.

    At Warwick, almost 50% of the student body are postgraduates. That is a huge number of students, representing a diverse group with specific needs. These needs, both within the Students’ Union and the University, were not being adequately addressed before the creation of the Postgraduate Officer position - before, postgraduates were served by a mismatch of different Sabbatical Officers looking after particular areas of concern, often failing to appreciate that some issues are postgraduate-specific.

    Since the position was created, a real difference has been made here at Warwick. A Pro-Vice Chancellor has been appointed with a portfolio specifically covering postgraduate students, ensuring that postgraduate issues are at the heart of the University’s strategic planning. A Welcome Week for incoming postgraduate students has also been established, while the PG Hub was opened following work by the Postgraduate SSLCs. We helped make sure that over 250 postgraduates were not left homeless when there was inadequate housing provision, and set up Saturday Sessions and REx Fest events designed to meet postgraduate needs. The Students’ Union created The Graduate as a space for postgraduates, and we have had more postgraduates involved in societies and sports year-on-year plus a 100% increase in the number of spaces for postgraduates on Student Council. We won the right for postgraduates who teach to have car parking spaces, helped set up application mentoring sessions for prospective PhD students, and have campaigned for national postgraduate loans (which will now be introduced in limited form from September 2016). This is in addition to supporting the work of the other Sabbatical Officers, ensuring that the issues most important to students are properly fought for. 

    At times it can feel like you are six Sabbatical Officers in one, going from helping postgraduates find housing and giving them welfare advice to trying to improve office and space provision for PGs throughout the University! I am still not even halfway through my year as your Postgraduate Officer, but I have already seen real results delivered for postgraduate students at Warwick. However, there is still so much more for us to do! There is so much that you can help improve for postgraduate students and those wanting to go onto postgraduate study here at Warwick – and that’s why I encourage anyone who is interested in fighting for students to consider running for a Sabbatical Officer position. If you are interested in standing to be our next Postgraduate Officer, please get in touch with us! Nominations close this Friday via www.warwicksu.com/elections

  • Wed 28 Jan 2015 12:43

    The seemingly never-ending roadworks and improvements moved into another stage this past Sunday, which means that they are closer to being finished (yay!) but this has also caused considerable problems with getting on and off campus (boo!)

     

    The University have published details of all the changes on their “Keep Campus Moving” webpages – however, judging by the questions and queries from many of you, it has not made it particularly clear! Despite being in my sixth year here, I must admit that it took me a few minutes to work out the maps that the University have produced, so I completely understand the confusion. We’ve attempted to simplify the maps slightly on the SU website HERE, but let me try and point out the changes as we understand them:

     

    1) The temporary bus stops that were located outside of SUHQ and next to Humanities are now gone and are not in use. The buses are now coming onto campus via the Scarman Road roundabout, with the first stop being at the Gatehouse, and the second stop the main Humanities stop. There seems to be some confusion around these two stops, with some students reporting that bus drivers are saying that they are for drop off only, whilst other students reporting that drivers are happily letting them on. Officially, however, Travel Coventry are apparently using them for both drop-off and pick-up, while Stagecoach are using them for drop-off only.

     

    2) After the Humanities stop, buses are going down the small road between the Sports Centre and Car Park 8a, round the back of Maths and Stats, and back out up onto University Road next to Car Park 15; this loop is being called the ‘Academic Loop’. There are three bus stops on this route – AL1, AL2, AL3 – and they are all helpfully labelled on the University maps for each of the buses on this page, giving the suggestion you can get each bus at any of the stops. Unfortunately, however, this is not actually the case. At bus stop AL1, closest to Claycroft, you can get the 360A and 360C buses. At AL2 you can get buses to Coventry, and at AL3 you can get buses to Leamington. We have produced a slightly more detailed map for you showing where the stops are, located here.

     

    3) These bus changes, as well as the general campus works, are causing considerable accessibility issues. There have been lots of large loose stones and very uneven surfaces at the new bus stops on the Academic Loop (which is unsuitable for those in wheelchairs, with visual impairments or mobility difficulties), while the bus shelters are only just far enough back for a wheelchair user to get on a bus with the ramp when there is no one else behind them at the bus stop. It disappoints me greatly that not only have the University been unclear with their communications to students on these changes, but they also appear to have not given due care to making sure that students with access needs are taken into consideration. If there are any students suffering with accessibility issues, please do not hesitate to get in touch with myself via postgrads@warwicksu.com or Jenny Wheeler, Disabled Students’ Officer, via j.s.wheeler@warwick.ac.uk.

     

    Hopefully that has cleared the situation up somewhat (though sadly it doesn’t lessen the ongoing inconvenience caused by these works!) – it is worth noting that we will shortly be launching a new campaign on Buses as a result of the overwhelming response to our recent Transport Survey here at the SU. In the meantime, if there are any other changes or information, we will update you via the SU website and SU Facebook page

Contact Me

Andrew's office is on the 2nd floor of SUHQ.

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The election for Postgraduate Officer takes place during the Officer Elections in Term 2.

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