NATFHE/NUS/NPC Employed Postgraduates' Charter (2003)

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Postgraduates who take on paid roles with a higher education institution (HEI) often experience a particularly unique set of circumstances in their employment relationship.

This charter affirms that Postgraduates who are employed at their place of study, even if for only a few hours per week, are undertaking a professional activity which is an important aspect of continuing professional development. Postgraduates are members of staff and must be integrated into the social and academic life of departments as valued colleagues and members of a professional community.

All postgraduates who are employed to undertake paid academic work at the institution where they study have the right to:

  • Fair and equal access to employment opportunities. For example a fair chance to know about and apply for part time teaching hours.
  • Non-discriminatory appointment procedures. An open process which does not just give some paid work to the favoured few.
  • A letter of appointment, definitive job description and a written statement of terms and conditions. Together, these should provide the postgraduate student with a clear statement of their rights and responsibilities as employees.
  • Adequate study time. The main aim of postgraduate students is to obtain the qualification for which they are studying. Teaching duties in excess of fair limits would threaten study time and reduce completion rates within a satisfactory timescale.
  • Belong to a trade union of choice and take a full and active part in that union. Postgraduates who are elected to a union position, which attracts time off, should be treated in the same way as other academic staff.
  • Full induction training. Postgraduates should be entitled to the same induction and orientation training as other academic staff. This should include health and safety training and an opportunity to listen to a presentation from the recognised union.
  • Work related training and opportunities for continuing professional development. Teaching is a skill, and as such requires to be learnt. Training in general teaching methods and in any specific skills or knowledge necessary is essential (Postgraduates should also have access to centrally provided development and training programmes on the same basis as other academic staff).
  • Nationally agreed pay levels. Ideally, postgraduates should be paid using the same scales as other academic staff, given fractional appointments and placed on a scale point appropriate to their qualifications and experience. If employed simply on hourly rates, these must be the full national rates and cover all working time, not just teaching time.
  • Pay for all responsibilities and work undertaken. The employer should recognise that payment based on actual hours worked is fairer than payment purely for contact time together with an inflexible formulaic calculation of preparation and marking time. Each course taught will require different preparation and marking time.
  • Full departmental and institutional integration. Postgraduates should be treated on a par with their academic colleagues. This should include appropriate access to computing, e-mail, telephone, stationery, photocopying, car parking, social, technical and secretarial facilities.
  • Adequate workplace accommodation. Postgraduates must be given adequate office or other appropriate space to carry out such duties as individual tuition and on-site preparation and marking.
  • Transparent and regular assessment and review procedures. It is not fair to the postgraduates or their students for postgraduates to be thrown into teaching with no support. They should have regular reviews to identify and remedy any problems early on.
  • Representation on all appropriate departmental and institutional committees. Postgraduates can often play a major role in teaching. They should have every opportunity to participate in Dept meetings.
  • Early payment of all appropriate expenses incurred in the performance of his/her duties. This should include travelling costs and time. Although an apparently minor administrative problem, late payment of expenses for those on very tight budgets can be a major difficulty.
  • Parity of access to all collectively negotiated mechanisms for the resolution of disputes, including grievance procedures. As employees, postgraduates should have exactly the same rights to air grievances through appropriate procedures. Similarly, if they face disciplinary, poor performance or similar allegations they should have every right to defend themselves through the agreed procedures and with the full support of their trade union.

All these rights are either lawful entitlements or standard good practice that HEIs apply to their other employed staff. Postgraduates deserve no less. For too long the major contribution, which many postgraduates make to teaching, has been taken for granted. That teaching deserves the same support as any other teaching and the postgraduates who deliver it deserve the same support as any other academic staff.