Supervision Boycott 2023: Student FAQs

Why are supervisors boycotting?

Our boycott has two aims: fair pay and contracts. 

We get paid around a tenner per hour to take undergraduate supervisions. Depending on preparation time, we sometimes even get paid below minimum wage. Our time and your learning is worth more than that.

Around half of your supervisions are taught by casualised staff earning near or less than minimum wage. Cambridge values their reputation for world-class teaching more than they value the real working and learning conditions of students and supervisors. The boycott shows them this can’t go on any longer.

We’re also boycotting to get contracts. The supervision system operates like a gig economy: do you want your university teaching to be organised like Deliveroo? Neither do we.

We’ve been campaigning for fair pay and contracts since 2019. In 2022, we delivered 600 postcards to the University and colleges demanding negotiations. We launched our CamCors report campaign, to highlight chronic underpayment among supervisors. These actions got us meetings with college representatives. But these conversations have gone nowhere. Despite putting a pay proposal in front of the colleges, they have rejected it and refused to negotiate. The boycott is therefore our last resort, after exhausting our other options.

That all sounds bad, but why boycott now? Haven’t students had enough disruption?

The supervision system doesn’t work for supervisors, but it also doesn’t work for students. It needs reforming urgently.

The current low pay means that many of us aren’t able to take on undergraduate teaching, as we have to choose better-paid work to make ends meet. We can earn twice or three times more tutoring secondary school students than undergraduates. The university already has a shortage of supervisors. In Lent 2023, the Physics department had to switch from teaching some courses through classes rather than supervisions, because there weren’t enough supervisors to teach the material. There was no boycott – supervisors were simply voting with their feet. The system is objectively in crisis.

If we got paid fair wages, more of us would teach and for longer, meaning students would get the best learning experience from supervisors that aren’t overworked and burnt out. It’s clear from the amount we’re being paid that the colleges don’t value your learning. Cambridge is supposed to provide world-class teaching, but colleges didn’t even pay supervisors for their training before our campaign won this demand earlier this year.

Many of us in the campaign are PhD students, who have also been affected by the Marking and Assessment Boycott and UCU strikes in previous years. We really sympathise with undergraduate students, but our working conditions are untenable – it can’t go on like this any longer. If we don’t change the system now, current undergraduates that remain at Cambridge for a PhD will fall into the same system of exploitation.

What will be affected?

The boycott will impact supervisions. Seminars, classes and lectures won’t be impacted.

Like during strikes and the MAB, it is likely that the impact will vary across colleges and departments.

I’m anxious about the impact on my studies.

We don’t want to boycott at all. This is a last resort, following conversations with colleges that have gone nowhere. We will end the boycott the moment that colleges make a meaningful effort to negotiate on pay and contracts.

We have announced the boycott now, because we hope that the colleges will start serious negotiations with us before the start of term. The clock is already ticking and it is entirely in the Colleges’ power to prevent the boycott from going ahead on October 1.

We really care about our students. We love that supervisions allow us to teach students in small groups, giving them individual support. Many of us have benefitted from fantastic supervisors when we were undergraduates, and we feel lucky to teach you. We know the importance of supervisions, and that’s why we know our work is worth more than minimum wage. Your learning is worth more than the minimum wage.

Ok, what can I do?

Email the Senior Tutor at your college and ask them to start negotiations with the campaign. We’ll end the boycott as soon as the colleges start meaningful negotiations on pay and contracts.