Trade Union Secures 'Huge Win' As Durham University Raises PhD Students’ Pay | TOTUM
Holly BarrowJanuary 30th

One of the UK's most prestigious universities has increased the salary of some of its PhD students, marking a 'huge win' for the Universities and College Union (UCU).

A number of PhD students at Durham University were being paid an annual salary which effectively meant they were receiving below the national minimum wage, leading the UCU to demand their pay be increased.

Last September, the university's trade union branch said it was shocked to discover that PhD students teaching on Durham's popular law course were being paid just £15,000 per year.


According to the UCU, this made them one of the lowest paid in the sector.

Receiving just £7.98 an hour before tax for the expected 1,880 hours of research for their PhD as well as 80 hours of teaching on the degree course, the students were earning below the £9.50 national minimum wage for those aged 23 and over.

Jo Grady, general secretary of the UCU, commented: “It is absolutely shameful that a university as wealthy as Durham thought it was acceptable to pay PhD researchers less than the legal minimum wage.

“Law PhD students told us they were taking on many jobs to get by and really struggling to manage everything.” Staff at 150 UK universities are set to strike for a period of 18 days between February and March in disputes over pay, working conditions and pensions.

University Staff Strikes

An estimated 70,000 staff members are expected to strike, with the UCU announcing its members are demanding meaningful pay rises to deal with the cost of living crisis as well as ending the use of 'insecure' contracts.

Just recently, two academics sued Oxford University over what they described as the 'Uberisation' of teaching contracts.

Lecturers Alice Jolly and Rebecca Abrams lectured on the university's creative writing course for 15 years on what they have dubbed 'legally questionable casual contracts'.

Employed on fixed-term 'personal services' contracts, the two missed out on a number of fundamental working rights during their time at Oxford University, including adequate holiday pay.


"Oxford is one of the worst offenders when it comes to the Uberisation of higher education teaching, with nearly 70% of its staff on precarious contracts. This is bad for teachers and bad for students," said Abrams.

Jolly went on to note that the university typically 'only offers zero-hours contracts which offer no job security and sometimes pay as little as £25 an hour'.

After 15 years of service, Oxford University did not renew their contracts in 2022, with both Jolly and Abrams believing this was as a result of their trade union campaigning. This led them to claim unfair dismissal.

Thousands of other university staff members find themselves in a similar position according to the UCU, which recently claimed that many young postgraduates are teaching undergraduate seminars and marking degree work on zero-hours or casualised contracts and are struggling to manage on their low earnings.

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