Discount University: we pay our staff peanuts and worry about the consequences later

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On Thursday, April 30th, we held an awareness-raising protest at the University of Maynooth. It was to bring some light to the fact that most of the teaching and research carried out in our universities and colleges today is done by people with no job security at all. Worse still, they are paid for only a fraction of the work that they do – they are not paid for preparation, administration and consultation with students. The action on Thursday was to highlight the exploitative rates of pay and deteriorating working conditions of front-line workers in our universities and colleges.

In the spirit of public theatre, we (temporary, part-time and casual-hours staff) set up our own recruitment stall for the fictional – though perhaps more upfront – ‘Discount University’. It is of course hard to compete with other universities in Ireland. Even the more prestigious institutions have precariously employed staff, who they pay almost nothing for correcting students work (as little as 1.05 euro per paper).

Applicants for positions were rigorously tested on their ability to grade student papers in real-life conditions. We offered training in the art of speed-reading and quality grading lest they be fined for failing to provide students with meaningful feedback. We made it clear that not everyone that applied for a position would be guaranteed a zero/low-hours contract – if they were not up to scratch we could just resort to the JobBridge scheme to get workers for nothing at all.

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In holding this recruitment event, we were highlighting the issue of casualization in Irish universities. Irish universities have been raising the cost of education to students while increasing class sizes and cutting the wages paid to those at the frontline of teaching and grading; many research and teaching staff now struggle to make a living.

This was the second manifestation of the Discount University and we will not go away until our teaching conditions (and by extension student learning conditions) are improved. See you at the next Discount University!

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