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Statement and UCU comment on University of Edinburgh PhD students who undertake teaching as part of their scholarship

27 February 2020

Following intervention from the UCU branch at Edinburgh university the university has confirmed that PhD students who deliver teaching as part of their scholarship won't face disciplinary action for participating in the ongoing UCU strikes.   The employer has also committed to working with UCU to improve the contractual position of PhD tutors, to address the situation where the divide between their study and work is unclear and to clarify their situation in the future.  Some PhD students had been concerned that they may have faced disciplinary action or student conduct procedures if they withdrew their labour as part of the UCU industrial action on pay and conditions.  This was as a result of the employer initially signaling that they were not employees and therefore could not strike.  UCU approached University management and the union and university have now agreed and issued a joint statement about these groups of tutors, their position and rights:

"Statement from UCU and the University of Edinburgh on PhD students who undertake teaching as part of their scholarship

"UCU has raised the issue of PhD students on University of Edinburgh (UoE) scholarships where teaching is a requirement of that scholarship.   The University has confirmed that there is no mechanism for deduction from the scholarship for any teaching or tutorial activities which are not  delivered.   The  University has also confirmed that, for the period of the UCU industrial action, those PhD students in this position who may withdraw their labour as part of the UCU action, will not face any action under the student code of conduct as a result of solely that activity.

"UCU and the University together acknowledge that we want to review and enhance the position of such PhD tutors, and that this is unfinished business from the 2019 UCU - UoE collective agreement addressing casualisation in the University.     We agree to work on these issues, to improve the position of PhD tutors delivering teaching as part of their scholarships, at the earliest opportunity."

Commenting on the joint statement Kevin McNicholl, from the UCU branch at Edinburgh university, said "This issue caused a great deal of concern and anger, not because it effected a large number of people but because it was emblematic of the attitude taken by management toward casualised staff.  Our university relies on a cohort of workers who are under-valued, under-paid, over-worked and are often not even treated like they are real workers.  Their world-class teaching is down-graded to a mere development opportunity.  This decision is extremely welcome and is a credit to the entire union, from the PhDs themselves, those who spontaneously began an open letter campaign, our expanding branch committee of outstanding activists, and UCU Scotland.  This is a template for how we win this strike."

Mary Senior, Scotland official UCU, said: "This is good news for PhD tutors at Edinburgh university, and I'm pleased that any perceived threats of disciplinaries for taking part in strike action have been clearly dispelled.   We really welcome the commitment from the employer to work with us to improve the lot of PhD tutors too, many are delivering teaching and need to be recognised as such".