Cambridge UCU and Cambridge SU launch the ‘Justice4CollegeSupervisors’ campaign

The Cambridge branch of the Universities and College Union (UCU) along with Cambridge Students’ Union have today publicly announced their campaign, “Justice for College Supervisors”, calling for a major overhaul in the terms and conditions of college-employed hourly-paid undergraduate supervisors. 

Although Cambridge University prides itself on its college-based “supervision” teaching system, the reality for those paid to teach undergraduate students for the Colleges is altogether different. Many of these hourly-paid teachers lack even a basic contract or a guarantee of the minimum wage.

To address this, Justice for College Supervisors has launched a petition addressed to the Senior Tutors of the 31 Cambridge Colleges. The petition makes three demands: paid training, a revision of the supervision pay rate to reflect the full number of hours spent on class preparation, and employment contracts for all casualised teachers who supervise undergraduates.

The General Secretary of the national UCU union, Jo Grady has backed the campaign: “While Cambridge’s managers and college masters enjoy big pay packets and perks, the supervisors who are the backbone of the university’s undergraduate teaching system are being exploited with poverty pay. Casualised supervisors are sometimes on precarious contracts, but often are without any contract at all. Staff are fed up with being treated like this. Cambridge is one of the world’s wealthiest universities. Its colleges have more than enough money to pay staff fairly – it’s a moral stain they don’t already and this must change.

Cambridge MP, Daniel Zeichner also joined this call for action: “The system for paying supervisors needs to be overhauled. We all agree supervisors are doing a highly specialised job. Currently there isn’t a forum to make sure all the parties involved get the certainty that they need: colleges, departments, supervisors and students. We need better consultation with supervisors on pay rates, terms and conditions. Cambridge’s supervisions are what makes the University stand out, but everyone doing the job should be treated properly.

In 2018, Cambridge University’s UCU branch conducted a survey which found 66.1% of polled supervisors conduct at least 2 hours preparation per 1 hour of paid contact time, meaning that many of them are earning far below minimum wage. Furthermore, this survey found that 45% of undergraduate supervision teaching was done by the university’s most casualised academic workers drawn from postgraduate students, freelancers and postdoctoral researchers. This supervising load comes at a heavy cost for these staff: they experience significant and unpaid demands on time in the training, planning and preparation for supervisions, uncertainty arising from unpredictable hours, and meagre remuneration offered by the colleges.

Cambridge UCU and Cambridge SU have submitted papers detailing their concerns and demands to the Senior Tutors Education Committee, making the case for its three core asks. Cambridge Student Union Welfare and Community officer, Alice Gilderdale, who has been involved in discussing these papers with the Colleges said: “We have made the case in writing to the colleges about how they can fix this system, both for the benefit of supervisors and for the students they teach. Cambridge prides itself on its supervision system, but it is propped up by obscene inequality. We hope that our demands will be acted on in full this academic year but, if they are ignored, our campaign will continue rallying support from supervisors and students to end the injustice in Cambridge’s supervision system.

Cambridge UCU branch secretary, and campaign organiser, Lorena Gazzotti, said: “Since 2018, Cambridge UCU has been talking to undergraduate supervisors across the collegiate university who are fed up with how they are being treated. The COVID19 crisis has pushed many more to continue supervising so that they can pay their rent; without a fair rate of pay or a contract, they are at a huge personal and financial risk. The colleges must address the unfairness at the heart of the supervision system, by giving all supervisors a proper contract and fair payment. The exchanges we had with representatives from the Colleges so far have been underwhelming. This is not acceptable, especially for such wealthy institutions: we want the 31 Colleges to take this issue seriously and properly negotiate the working conditions of undergraduate supervisors with us. Workers are getting organised, and we are ready to campaign until our demands are met.”

For some FAQs for the Justice4CollegeSupervisors campaign, click here.