Testimonies from casualised staff (gathered April 2020)
I am a Lecturer on a fixed-term teaching contract for 9 months, from 1 October 2019 to 30 June 2020. According to emails from the VC, this will not be renewed or extended.
My personal circumstances are terribly precarious now. I am also a Tier 2 visa holder, engaged to a British citizen, but we have been prevented by the government from getting married due to the lockdown. This affects my immigration status and forces me to look to other means (that I really shouldn’t have to in the first place!) to secure it. The end of my contract thus has more severe consequences than ever before. Ironically, without providing the University with my service, I would have been in a more secure position because the job closed off other visa extension options.
I am utterly devastated that this confluence of events means that working for the University contributed to a threat to my family life. The world is full of injustice now, and unfortunately it seems that the University will perpetuate this injustice for a large number of us—the casual and fixed-term workers who are deemed unimportant, despite providing services essential to the core business of the University.
The University’s plans to discard fixed term teachers and GTAs/GLAs in particular is incredibly hurtful when positioned with their calls to staff to focus on delivering quality teaching. The message effectively devalues our work, and implies that we were bad at doing it. This is simply not true.
To do my job effectively, I needed to prepare much of my own content in my own time, so that I could jump straight into teaching the moment my contract started—all of which I did, and delivered my teaching well; this is a matter of record in SAMTs, and student feedback. With the work-from-home directives, I have continued to deliver teaching over and above what is expected, including taking the time for one-on-one meetings.
In normal circumstances, the terms of employment are already quite exploitative. I am now expected to maintain high levels of effectiveness while getting many insensitive emails from the VC and top management about ‘saving jobs’—though mine certainly will be axed with no hope of a re-contract and ‘delivering excellent teaching’—while in the same breath cutting teaching staff deemed non-essential. I am not sure how this is meant to be an incentive to do a good job.
Furthermore, I have delivered on the research front throughout my contract, continuing to produce papers and submit grants alongside my teaching, all of which the University will be happy to claim as output.
To add insult to injury, the University has frozen existing funds, including those awarded as bursaries earned last year. This is the only funding a fixed-term teacher has to develop professionally, and withholding it is now impeding my current research, thus harming my future career prospects. The University claims this amount is being withheld to protect salaries—in this case, it is very much robbing the poor to pay the rich!
I should note that my department—I thank my Research Director in particular—has acknowledged this is a gross unfairness and raising my case with the Head of Department. They approved the expenditure, but the University is still refusing to release it.
In sum, fixed-term teachers are qualified academics who do work on par with permanent staff, but we are devalued and now further punished by the exploitative system. Fixed Term Lecturer on a 9-month contract
I have been a lecturer at Essex for the past two and a half years. I am on a three-year ASER contract, with the contract due to end in the Summer. Since my time at Essex, I have fully embedded myself in the teaching, research and administrative parts of my role. This has been recognised by all members of staff in the department, including my Head of Department who was confident that a permanent position for me would be approved in the next budget round. Then COIVD-19 happened and all departments were told that they must freeze all recruitment. I now face unemployment in a few months’ time. As many other universities are in the same position, the prospect of finding a job elsewhere is very low. Once I am ‘out of the loop’ I fear it will be very hard to get back in to an academic post as things move so quickly and there are hundreds of others to replace me. Right now I feel dispensable and under-valued when I have done everything I can to contribute to the department and the University. Fixed Term Lecturer on a 3-Year ASER Contract
I am a fixed-term lecturer at the University of Essex. Last week I was informed by my Head of Department there was nothing they could do to keep me beyond the end of my 9-month contract date.
I feel for my Head of Department, as I know they would help me and other colleagues if they were able – but University policy is not to extend the contracts of any fixed term staff. Although I always knew I’d be looking for a job by the end of this contract, I did not expect to be doing that in the middle of a pandemic. The number of jobs in my field has massively dropped, and the competition for those remaining is high. I’m in a position where I won’t be able to afford my rent come July if I don’t have a position, and will either have to move back in with my family or claim universal credit. If we’re all in it together, why is the University leaving so many of us out in the cold in this difficult time? Fixed Term Lecturer on a 9-month contract
I’m a second year PhD student in the Department of Sociology. I returned from fieldwork earlier this year and expected to be teaching this academic year in September. I have no teaching experience and am aware that without it, my prospects for a job in academia later down the line are severely disadvantaged. Teaching is an important part of the PhD programme; it builds new skills which are useful in academic and non-academic roles. The impact of these job cuts is therefore not only financial.
Secondly, I was relying on the prospect of these teaching jobs to provide an income in the Autumn. PhD scholarships are not enough to live on (especially if you live in London) – they are in fact, below the minimum wage. The cuts to jobs will have a massive impact on my ability to survive financially. Second Year PhD Student
I am an overseas student and, even though I have secured a very good scholarship back home, this scholarship barely covered my tuition fees. As a result of the latter, I rely on several part-time and on-demand jobs in the University. Throughout my degree, I have worked as a GTA, as an Invigilator, and as a Graduation Assistant. All these positions have now disappeared, which means that my last chances of getting an income before entering the (terrifying) job market have vanished. To make matters worse, announcements (or the lack thereof) from management have been a cause of anxiety: official statements have been inconsistent, many times misleading, frequently patronising (e.g. offering postgraduate students advice on how to manage their finances), or non-existent (e.g. the Exams Office has not replied to any of my emails concerning compensation to Invigilators for the jobs they lost this Summer) Final Year PhD Student and GTA
The current disruption to University operations has had a severe impact on my work as a Scribe/Reader and Invigilator. I would normally have a substantial amount of work during the University main examination period, for which I would expect to earn somewhere between £1,500 and £2,000. Instead, I have not been offered any work as a Scribe/Reader or Invigilator because the exams have now been replaced with online assessment.
Although I realise that, legally, a casual or ‘as and when’ contract offers no guarantee of employment, in practice I have always received a substantial amount of work as a Scribe/Reader and Invigilator during the main examination period, every year since I began work in the 2006/07 academic year, and – prior to the pandemic – had been led to believe that this would certainly be the case in the current academic year. Therefore, any suggestion that I may not have been offered any work is unrealistic and unfair.
I also know that there are some students who would still benefit from the services of a Scribe/Reader regardless of whether they are undertaking their exams/end of year assessment at home or on campus, and that this can be done using technology such as Zoom, but they have been denied this option, just as I have been denied the work. Whilst I realise that the pandemic has caused major difficulties for, and disruption to, the University in a wider sense, the impact on casual staff has been overlooked. The contribution of casual staff – who provide a valuable resource for the University to draw on – therefore deserves some recognition. Scribe/Reader/Invigilator on an On Demand contract
I’ve been invigilating at Essex since March 2015, so the loss of exams (and in-class tests) affects me financially. The uncertainty over whether exams will ever happen again in the future in a classroom setting is a worry.
I’ve also been on p/t temp contracts (inc fixed term contracts) for various depts since 1st Aug 2016 (only had 2 periods of being out of work in that time – both for just 2 months). My last contract ended 31st March and ordinarily I’d return to the temp register and wait for my next job offer, however, I have no idea whether there will be any temp work available in the near future. I doubt whether I’ll be able to be furloughed as I was out of contract from 1st April. Member of staff on fixed term contracts at the University since 2015
The financial strain caused by the recent budget cuts to Graduate Teaching Assistant positions will be indescribable to many PhD students who rely on this income to support their studies and living. Furthermore, teaching opportunities are essential for securing permanent academic staff positions in the future. This is virtually impossible without teaching experience during one’s PhD. For research students such as myself who are close to finishing their degrees this will hit particularly hard: if the University decides to abandon us at the time of a crisis, we will likely not be able to find employment anywhere else in the near future. The continuing uncertainty on our employment status is unacceptable and psychologically detrimental. PhD Student and GTA
As a GTA and a third year PhD student, the decision of University not to hire any GTAs next academic year means I have to move back to my home country to finish my dissertation since my scholarship runs out this year. Except my supervisors, I did not really feel I receive any real support from the Uni during this time. I cannot access my office space during this time which means both GTA and PhD tasks must be done with any equipment I have in my apartment but the expectations are “business as usual.” The emails from the VC and PGR director were long, often filled with blanket statements about solidarity, not really offering any tangible and automatic support but rather offering if/then solutions- prolonging scholarship if you apply for the extension- instead of automatically waiving tuition fees for the next academic term for everyone. Third Year PhD Student and GTA
This is my fourth year of being contracted as an Invigilator/Senior Invigilator at the University of Essex. Since joining in March 2017, I have invigilated for the Exams Office during the core examination periods & various other departments throughout the year. I work on an ‘on-demand’ basis & am paid through the PAYE scheme.
I last invigilated on 12th February 2020; all subsequent sessions were cancelled due to the Coronavirus outbreak.
I have always found the work to be enjoyable & the bustling, professional environment of the University to be stimulating. As such I have always prioritised the University over the other work that I do.
On a practical level the cancellation of exams will leave me with a large chunk of time on my hands that I had hitherto se aside as ‘exams season’ this would usually run from the early exams period through the busy main exams period that often runs across six days a week, ending in early June.
Of course, this will cause me a degree of financial hardship as I have not yet reached retirement age & had come to look upon my invigilation work at the University as part of my regular annual income.
I fully accept that the current situation is beyond the control of the University but I am disappointed that no financial provision has been given to Invigilation staff as many of us had put a significant period of time at the disposal of the University when responding to the an availability request from the Exams Office in February. Invigilator/Senior Invigilator on an On Demand Contract
Now forcibly retired following my redundancy from full-time employment last May, I had high hopes for a busy summer embracing a number of ‘on demand’ roles.
I graduated from the University of Essex more than 40 years ago, but have not yet worked there. I had been interviewed and appointed to work for the Exams Office from this summer and was looking forward to my initial training day in March when the announcement came that normal exam invigilation would no longer be required in light of the Covid19 pandemic.
That news had swiftly followed the Government’s announcement that local elections would not be held this year. That put paid to another gig to which I had been signed up – counting votes.
Another few days passed and it was confirmed that this summer’s A Level exams were also to be scrapped. No work for me then at Colchester Sixth Form College, where I also work on demand as an invigilator.
Never mind. I still had my voluntary role as clubhouse manager for Colchester and East Essex Cricket Club and was preparing bar and cleaning schedules and arranging to buy stock.
Then that, too, was made subject to lockdown. Like other bars throughout the country the club is not permitted to open and all prospects of play have been shelved at least until July 1. My only useful function was to check that all electrical appliances had been shut down.
So what had looked to be a crowded diary for May and June is now empty. Even my weekend trip to Germany has been cancelled.
I am lucky. My wife is a key worker and so still employed and I can survive on my modest private pension, but I do miss the prospect of engaging with colleagues and students at the University. Invigilator on On Demand Contract
I have lost my potential income for the upcoming academic year, which places an increased strain on my mental health and will undoubtedly negatively impact my research, as I will need to seek employment elsewhere in a likely unrelated field. I am also worried about my academic career progression in the absence of being able to acquire the necessary skills and experience of lecturing at university-level. GTA
Further testimonies gathered June 2020
I am an inviglilator and scribe at University of Essex and have recently given up a job in a school of two days a week with the intention of being available full time to invigilate and scribe for the students at UoE. Obviously no one could predict the scale of the Covid 19 pandemic but it has left me in a bad position finacially as I was relying on the payments that I receive from the inviglilating to help with everyday living. I do not have a state pension yet and do not work to ‘pay for luxuries’ or ‘go on holiday’.
My husband has been laid off and we have our eldest son living with us too.
I am not writing to give you a sob story but I do feel that we invigilators along side other casual workers have been left out of all the picture regarding financial help during this crisis.
I am sure that the universities will be given bailouts and I feel that our role as inviglators play a very important part in the lif e of the students. Invigilator
I have lost my potential income for the upcoming academic year, which places an increased strain on my mental health and will undoubtedly negatively impact my research, as I will need to seek employment elsewhere in a likely unrelated field. I am also worried about my academic career progression in the absence of being able to acquire the necessary skills and experience of lecturing at university-level. PhD Student and GTA
I am a casual member of staff and invigilator. I work for Essex and for Roehampton University, I also worked for Kaplan International based at Essex University teaching EAP for six weeks last summer.
Whilst in Essex I let my flat in London via Airbnb for a few months, and stay in my caravan locally.
All these sources of income have dried up due to COVID-19. I’m just one of the many thousands of people who work on a range of short-term, precarious, and casual contracts and sources of income.
Essex invigilating is particularly badly paid, however it was a useful addition to my general income, and also had a social element enabling me to make contacts and friends across the team.
I was particularly looking forward to this year as I thought my income would increase with my TEFL work, but now I’m seriously considering putting my flat on the market once lockdown is lifted. Invigilator and EAP Tutor