UCU Recruitment Leaflet

UCL UCU is running a recruitment drive at UCL student union’s Welcome Fair, and PGWA activists created a leaflet to help explain the case for joining the union to postgraduate students. Feel free to adapt it to use on your own campus – just don’t forget to change the logos and specific details!

You can find the leaflet on our Resources page, along with other useful materials.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

New Publication on the Postgraduate Workers Association by Jamie Woodcock and Luke Evans

The struggle of postgraduates is taking place against the backdrop of far-reaching changes in higher education. One of these changes is the increasing tendency to push the burden of teaching onto postgraduates. This is the result of two factors. Firstly, and perhaps most obviously, postgraduate labour is much cheaper. Secondly, it forms a part of the neoliberal agenda to generally drive down wages and conditions of lecturers. This is part of a process of opening up universities to the market and making them more attractive for privatisation. The attacks on lecturers’ pensions are an important component of this. This highlights the potential risks of management playing postgraduate teachers off against lecturers, using them to undermine lecturers’ attempts to fight back. There is an important difference in that many postgraduates who teach hope to continue on to lecture and so standing with lecturers can be seen as safeguarding future conditions. However this is certainly not automatic: Read more here

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Beating unpaid internships at UCL

PGWA will post accounts of the experiences of students and workers in campaigning and organising here so that we can share and learn from each other. If you want to share your experiences in relevant campaigns and lessons you think can be learned from them, please email postgraduate.worker [at] gmail.com

A UCL-based activist and PGWA supporter explains how staff and students forced the withdrawal of advertisements for unpaid research positions. These are the opinions of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the positions of UCL UCU, UCLU student union, the PGWA, or other individuals involved in the campaign described.

We were first alerted in late July 2012 to an advertisement for a number of unpaid internships working on a clinical research project with the Anna Freud Centre, an institution associated with UCL. The internships were based at UCL, and were part- or full-time, lasting 6 months. They were targeted at graduates or current students of first degrees in psychology and associated disciplines. The adverts clearly described full-on jobs with specific and serious responsibilities, involving skilled scientific work and direct contact with human patients/subjects. The advert was subsequently taken down, but was preserved on Ben Goldacre’s blog.

Our first step, as activists in the UCL UCU branch and the student union, was to draft a public statement, and post it on the UCU branch facebook account as a note inviting signatories. We posted it with UCU branch officers and student union officers as the first signatories. The statement explained our reasons for opposing the internships, including:

  • The exploitative nature of offering unpaid work “opportunities” to early career researchers desperate to improve their CVs in competitive times of high unemployment and poor job prospects
  • That relying on unpaid and underpaid labour legitimises and hides the continued underfunding of vital research
  • That because only more privileged individuals can afford to work for nothing for months at a time (usually those with families both able and willing to support them to do so), the practice perpetuates and exacerbates the disproportionate dominance in research careers. Not only of individuals from richer socioeconomic backgrounds, but also of white, heterosexual, able-bodied cis men. As well as being discriminatory, this ultimately harms research as a whole by restricting the perspectives and experiences of those contributing.

The statement ending by calling on UCL and the Anna Freud Centre to withdraw the posts, re-advertise them with appropriate salary, and publicly promise to forego the use of unpaid internships in the future. We invited supporters to sign by commenting on the post or by emailing an anonymous email address we had set up for this purpose. We also posted the email addresses of the Provost (Vice-Chancellor) of UCL and the head of the Anna Freud Centre, and invited supporters to politely message them about the issue.

Next, we set about publicity. Some of this was on Facebook, but I think the key was Twitter. The message quickly spread from our contacts to their contacts, to theirs, and it was soon picked up by commentators with very large numbers of followers, such as Ben Goldacre. Within the next two days, we had large numbers of signatories, bloggers were writing articles, the UCU national office had issued a public statement, and an opinion piece had appeared in the Guardian’s Higher Education Professionals network. As far as I could find, all articles were either impartial reporting, or supportive of our position. Twitter is uniquely powerful if you need to rapidly spread the word about an unethical practice and rouse public opposition.

Under this pressure, the adverts were rapidly withdrawn. The Anna Freud Centre issued a statement in which it attempted to defend the original attempt to use unpaid labour on the grounds that it would benefit the interns’ careers, and that the project they wished to carry out (it certainly appeared to be a worthwhile one) could not obtain sufficient funding. Somehow imagining that this would bolster their position they informed the world that the more senior researchers working on the project were also receiving no specific additional pay for the time spent working on it. In this writer’s view, this merely revealed that the exploitation involved went beyond the internships – as PGWA supporters we stand in solidarity with our more senior colleagues struggling for decent pay and against unreasonable, damaging expectations of long hours.

We are now trying to take this opportunity to achieve lasting change at our institutions. The UCU branch Joint Presidents have written openly to UCL’s Provost and the head of the AFC, thanking them for withdrawing the adverts, and inviting them to do two things:

  • Instead of shifting the consequences of underfunding onto early career researchers, they should endorse and join the ongoing campaigns by their staff and students against the government funding policies responsible.
  • To commit to a revision of internal policies, with the participation of the campus trade and student unions, that would abolish the use of unpaid internships for good.

They highlighted how this was an opportunity for both institutions to make a positive demonstration of their commitment to ethical employment and research practices. We hope that they will take it.

Some lessons I would like to share:

  • Public scrutiny can be a powerful tool for shifting our institutions to behave more ethically in some cases.
  • Twitter is an effective way of spreading the word quickly about an immediate issue that relates to a general latent concern, and making a high level of public disapproval very apparent to our institutions. There is clearly a great deal of opposition to practices such as these, which can be quickly coordinated and channelled when a particular instance pops up.
  • A number of supporters commented to us that Facebook was not the best place to post our statement, as this made it harder to spread the link on Twitter. In future, I would recommend making a blog post, perhaps on the website of your UCU branch, student union, or campus anticuts group.
  • Strong links between the student union and UCU branch, and between staff and student activists, were very powerful in facilitating our campaign. Building and strengthening this relationship on your campus is a very worthwhile exercise and will serve you well in all sorts of situations. Postgraduate students can play a key role in this, sitting as they do in something of a middle ground and being eligible to hold membership and elected positions in both unions.
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Statement opposing unpaid research jobs at UCL and Anna Freud Centre – please sign

The Anna Freud Centre is advertising 2-3 full- or part-time research assistant internships based at University College London (UCL) and lasting 6 months. The advert is aimed at graduates and current undergraduate students. The advert can be found at http://www.annafreud.org/jobs.php?id=347 and includes a detailed job description: the interns will be doing skilled work contributing to a clinical research project and dealing directly with participating patients. However the positions are advertised as completely unpaid aside from travel expenses.

It is completely unacceptable that academic researchers, or indeed anyone, should be expected to work for free. In a period of austerity and high unemployment, with access to postgraduate degrees increasingly limited, competitive and expensive, and academic career prospects appearing poorer and poorer, it is particularly exploitative to offer unpaid work to early career researchers in the knowledge that they will feel compelled to accept it to remain competitive in degree applications and the job market. The practice also encourages and legitimises the continued underfunding of research, and discriminates between researchers. UCU has previously spoken out against other unpaid research positions.

Not everyone can afford to work for free for 6 months. Making research positions unpaid will only worsen the social inequalities in academia and education – not only in terms of class, but also the diversity of individuals who can access these careers. This is not only discriminatory, but will ultimately damage research itself by limiting contributions to only the most privileged members of society.

Academic and clinical research of this type saves and improves lives and is incredibly important. However it is unethical and unsustainable for it to proceed on the back of unpaid labour. We urge UCL and the Anna Freud Centre to re-offer these positions with salaries appropriate to the skilled work and hours demanded, and to issue a public promise to pay all their workers appropriately in the future.

Please comment here or email unpaid.worker.ucl@gmail.com to add your signature to this open statement – remember to let us know if you are a trade or student union rep, or hold any other relevant position you would like listed. Please also share this statement on social media and in your academic institutions.

You can contact the Anna Freud Centre at info@annafreud.org and UCL’s Provost at provost@ucl.ac.uk to let them know about your opposition to unpaid work. We urge you to do so politely!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Discussion on the future of academic careers

Today (Friday 13 July 2012) 12-2pm BST the Guardian Higher Education Network is hosting a discussion on the future of academic careers. This promises to be an interesting and lively conversation so do drop in: http://www.guardian.co.uk/higher-education-network/blog/2012/jul/11/careers-options-for-academics?newsfeed=true

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

British Academy Position Statement – Postgraduate funding: the neglected dimension

The question of how postgraduate study should be funding in the future has been largely ignored in public debate. Postgraduate study is under threat from a number of quarters, ranging from: increased levels of undergraduate debt; rising postgraduate tuition fee; the shortage of postgraduate funding opportunities; and current immigration policy. The statement makes a number of recommendations aimed at addressing these threats and urges the government to develop a holistic strategy that recognises the value of postgraduate study in the UK.

http://www.britac.ac.uk/policy/research_and_he_policy.cfm British Academy Position Statement


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Statement on Birmingham ‘Honorary’ unpaid research assistant

We note the advertisement of an ‘Honorary’ research assistant on an unpaid basis in the University of Birmingham psychology department has been withdrawn from advertisement.

We believe that the aims of the research; understanding mental illness in young adults, is an important pursuit. We do not wish to stigmatize those who may have wanted to apply for this position or those leading the research.

We would, however, like to draw attention to the long term damage done to the pursuit of scientific inquiry by the use of unpaid labour in universities. In the short term, it establishes a practice that encourages the continued underfunding of vital research. In the long term it reduces the pool of people able to enter research to those that can afford to work for free. If these employment practices consolidate in the sector, science runs the risk of regressing back to the ‘gentlemen’s pursuit’ of the Victorian era.

The job advertised required a highly skilled, motivated individual. It is bad for scientific inquiry if these positions become the domain of the most able to work for free, not those most qualified.

For this reason we believe that such employment practices damage the reputation of the institution and department that implement them. We hope to see the job reappear with an appropriate salary.

We welcome the statement put out by UCU on this issue bit.ly/MOBTNR, and look forward to campaigning to eradicate poor practice in future.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

NUS national demonstation

The PGWA welcomes the announcement of the NUS national demonstration on the 21st of November 2012.

The first students to pay £9,000 fees will be starting next academic year and many of the coalition policies, including attacks on university funding, will be taking effect.

We call on the NUS postgraduate section to organise a postgraduate bloc on the demonstration and to build for the biggest possible turn out on the day.

Postgraduates that teach in higher education should be marching alongside students and lecturers to defend education on the 21st November. We will also be raising the demand: “For fair pay and academic freedom”


Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

UCU Congress 2012 Report-back

The Postgraduate Workers Association (PGWA) was given a enthusiastic welcome at the Universities and College Union (UCU) conference 2012. The network received wide support from the established academics that spoke to us, and the attending post-grads expressed genuine interest at the work we were trying to do.

The PGWA also heard about many organising and campaigning initiatives on campuses from across the country, including the north of England (Teeside, Durham, Leeds) and Scotland (Edinburgh, Aberdeen). We invited the post-grad activists to create reports for our blog, so that the network can share in our successes and learn useful organising methods.

The PGWA was also specifically mentioned as an exciting and important initiative in the Anti-Casualisation Committee (ACC) fringe meeting on the Saturday, at which over 50 UCU activists attended.

There were also a number of motions passed calling on the UCU to initiate or strengthen the union’s activity against casualised working conditions, for fair pay for hourly paid lecturers, and in defence on academic freedom in the face of the introduction of privatisation in Higher Education – these issues being ones that postgrads have to negotiate in their daily lives.

Motions from many branches included anti-casualisation elements and considerations, which indicate a rapidly growing unease about the marketisation of education and the casualisation of the workforce in general.

The UCU Anti-Casualisation Committee is an important initiative within the union that works to highlight the trend towards temporary and hourly paid work in both Further and Higher education, and the growing support for the issues it raises opens up the opportunities for postgraduates experiencing these conditions to have their concerns heard and addressed at their local branches.

A key motion for us was HE17, which established a national precedent for local UCU branches to develop postgrad recruitment drives, whilst linking this to the promotion of the NUS/UCU Postgraduate Charter.

The PGWA has also been invited to organise our own workshop at the upcoming UCU Left national conference in September.

So, the outcomes of conference are that we have developed an awareness of the PGWA within UCU on a national level, have made contacts with activists from numerous institutions across the country (many of whom are already engaged in very similar work to our own and can bring practical ideas and experience to the network), and that we have been invited to curate a workshop at a national conference in Sept.

A successful conference for us all round!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment


A new tab has been added to the blog for reports.

We are calling for reports from across the country about experiences of organising postgraduates that teach at different universities.

If you have a report that we can publish please email: postgraduate.worker@gmail.com

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment