Posted on Thu 09 May 2019 at 14:41 by Christopher Carter
Back in March, I conducted some research into the experiences of postgrads who teach at Warwick. Firstly, I’d like to say thank you to everyone who filled in our online survey and came along to a focus group – your comments and insight were really useful in helping us at the SU better understand the realities of teaching, and how we can help to improve your conditions!
Your responses were also helpful in providing the SU with a revised direction on its campaign to lobby for better teaching conditions for Postgraduate tutors. Whilst you said that you enjoyed teaching and wanted to provide a good quality experience to students, you often felt unsupported and not particularly empowered to do so. Across faculties, tutors in the Arts were less positive towards their experiences, meaning that only 56% of tutors would recommend teaching at Warwick. In social sciences, this rose to 86% and for Science, Engineering and Medicine, this percentage was 95%.
Some key problems emerged from our focus groups. Firstly, support and training were both insufficient and inconsistent across departments and modules, with some receiving continued teaching support in regular meetings with module leaders, whilst others received very little help in this area. There is a lack of guidance on marking work, as well as how to solve issues in the classrooms.
Secondly, preparation time and workload was a significant issue, and one directly linked to pay and contracts. Tutors consistently find it difficult to prep sufficiently for seminars, and the three hours or so allocated to this in the STP contract is not adequate, meaning that tutors are often not paid for the hours they do. Whilst we hope to deal with these problems through the development of proper employment contracts for tutors, problems with recruitment have increased already high workloads - meaning that to truly solve the issues, we must ensure teaching is attractive at Warwick. There is a similar issue with marking: whilst tutors want to provide good quality feedback, they often do not have the time or guidance to provide this to students.
Therefore, what this research has shown is that while tutors want to provide good teaching to students, they are often not properly equipped to do so. With Warwick’s focus on improving teaching quality – such as reducing feedback times and providing detailed, constructive feedback – it is crucial that they recognise the importance of PGR tutors in providing this, and ensure that they are properly invested in as part of improving the teaching experiences of undergraduate students. If we do not address these problems, teaching will become less and less attractive for postgrads; likewise, if the University continues to increase undergraduate student numbers without investing in PGR teaching, things could end in disaster.
With this information, the SU has clear direction to tackle these issues and lobby the University to give our PGR tutors a better deal. Over the next year, the design and development of proper employment contracts will be a big part of this, but it is also crucial to ensure that strategies improving teaching quality recognise the massive part that PGR tutors play - and that they are supported and empowered to provide the high-quality teaching that they evidently want to.
If you would like more information on the survey results, please contact me via firstname.lastname@example.org.