In response to student internships designed to facilitate the transition to a “blended learning” model, the Exeter UCU has accused the University of breaking assurances and exploiting student labour.
In a 28 May email, the University of Exeter Education Executive announced ‘Project Enhance’ as the University moves to improve its digital resources to better support learning during the COVID-19 outbreak.
It also explained that “much of the curriculum that might typically have been delivered through lectures, will now be translated into guided online resources”.
Project Enhance includes the recruiting of 130 paid interns to “work alongside academics to provide real-time feedback on modules in development” which has drawn criticism from the Exeter UCU.
These student posts are minimally paid, whilst undervalued experienced teachers are losing their livelihoods or having their workloads increased.Exeter UCU statement
In a statement released Thursday, they explained that these responsibilities “are currently, or have previously been, filled by precarious academic staff who are now left without work.”
The statement also revealed that Tim Quine, DVC Education, had “assured unions that PTAs were needed to enable teaching to move online, and that there would be plenty of work for these members” alleging that the internships replace this.
They also accused the internships of exploiting student labour, saying: “These student posts are minimally paid, whilst undervalued experienced teachers are losing their livelihoods or having their workloads increased.
“We believe that this latest initiative is an attempt by the employer to replace their existing casualised workforce with even cheaper labour, rather than honouring their commitments to provide fairer, more secure employment for all.
“We believe that it is insulting to members who are losing their jobs to have been asked to circulate the advertisement for these roles to their students whilst they themselves are facing uncertain futures due to a contracting job market.”
The University is creating these exciting opportunities – not replacing existing roles – to help shape our degree programmes, and also to offer students the ability to gain invaluable digital skills highly sought after by employers across all sectors.University of Exeter spokesperson
The University responded in defence of the internships, accusing the UCU of being inaccurate: “We are disappointed that the Exeter branch of the UCU has released a statement relating to a number of new student employment opportunities which unfortunately contains a number of inaccuracies. At a time when so many people are having extremely difficult challenges, we are also disappointed that the intentions and reasons behind these new positions have been misconstrued.”
The statement continued: “The internship and graduate business partner roles advertised are certainly not, as has been claimed, designed to replace roles carried out by existing permanent or fixed term staff, or by PTAs.
“The University is creating these exciting opportunities – not replacing existing roles – to help shape our degree programmes, and also to offer students the ability to gain invaluable digital skills highly sought after by employers across all sectors.”
The position is advertised as offering an hourly wage of £10.42 for up to a total of 100 hours, whilst the main duties include “organising resources and teaching materials to ensure they are accessible online.” It is expected to run until June 2021.
We also conveyed that PTAs are highly trained experts in their subjects and undergraduates will only get the full benefit of a Russell Group education with access to such expertise, and so their teachers cannot be replaced by their peers.Sunday Blake, VP Postgraduate
Sunday Blake, VP Postgraduate, also commented: “We welcome the introduction of new, paid roles for Undergraduate and graduates. Students are facing a daunting prospect of entering an uncertain job market, and the University offering opportunities is a good thing.
“It is important that employment opportunities are protected for all students, so we have addressed concerns from some students about these opportunities could lead to Postgraduate Teaching Assistant roles being replaced with Digital Learning Assistant roles with the DVC Education on Friday 29 May. We are pleased that we have been reassured these two positions are very different.
“We stressed that PTAs have given much time and effort into digitalising the curriculum, and so we hope that in return PTAs roles are protected. We also conveyed that PTAs are highly trained experts in their subjects and undergraduates will only get the full benefit of a Russell Group education with access to such expertise, and so their teachers cannot be replaced by their peers. DVC Education responded assuring us this is not the case and the two positions are completely different. We will continue to be in dialogue with the University surrounding the Digital Learning Assistant and the Postgraduate Teaching Roles.”