Wednesday 17 January 2018

Irish university students offer sex to fund studies, claims report

Photo: PA
Photo: PA

Kylie Noble

Female students at an Irish universtiy are turning to sex work to help fund their studies, a report has claimed.

The university and College Union and the Students' Union claimed some PhD students at Queen's University Belfast are being paid below the minimum wage.

One anonymous submission states that postgraduate women felt there was "little choice" but to go into sex work due to financial adversity.

These students are frequently "from working-class backgrounds" with "no access to credit", it said.

Queen’s University in Belfast
Queen’s University in Belfast

Some 250 of Queen's 1,365 postgraduate student population replied to the survey, which was hosted online by UCU.

PhD study is the highest level of study that can be taken at university level. A full-time standard postgraduate research tuition fee, for a student commencing study this year, is £4,121 (€4,616). Some 40% of respondents said they are expected to undertake unpaid work such as office hours, meeting students, replying to student emails, marking essays and extra work for their supervisor.

The report claims there is no standardised pay across departments, with fees for marking "normally around £3 (€3.35) per exam and anywhere from £4 to £11 (€4.50 to €12.32)  to  per assignment."

It states that the average hourly pay for teaching time is £33 (€37) a hour. However, with preparation time factored in, some students are "not receiving the minimum wage for each hour they work (£6 (€6.72) compared with £7.20 (€8.06))."

Each teaching assistant is spending "an average of 5.5 hours per week preparing for their class", the report adds.

Other issues of concern raised include lack of payment, late payment, unrealistic workloads with tough deadlines, poor support for disabled students and threats of contract termination to students who challenge poor working conditions.

UCU and Students' Union have made four key demands from the university. These include no more unpaid marking of exams or assignments and a ban on unpaid office hours.

They also want payment for work, reflecting the time taken to do it, and a fairer pay scale for various tasks.

Dr Fabian Schuppert, who is president of UCU at QUB, "hopes that Queen's will take the concerns the report raises seriously".

He said: "The demands the report sets out are very reasonable: no unpaid office hours. Fair pay for the time actually spent on tasks. That does not seem too much to ask for."

A spokesperson for Queen's refuted that PhD students are undervalued.

They said: "The most recent Postgraduate Research Experience Survey recorded an overall satisfaction score of 82.8% by Queen's students. These satisfaction levels do not accord with the findings publicised by the UCU.

"In particular, the university takes the issue of student welfare very seriously and is proud of its record in this area."

Belfast Telegraph

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