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Two academics are suing Oxford University for employing them as gig economy workers in a case which draws on the landmark ruling that gave Uber drivers the right to paid holidays and a pension.

The two lecturers were employed on fixed-term “personal services” contracts to teach on Oxford’s creative writing course for 15 years, but these were not renewed in 2022.


Jolly added that universities use writers’ CVs to market their creative writing courses, yet often they “will only offer zero-hours contracts which offer no job security and sometimes pay as little as £25 an hour” – which doesn’t factor in preparation time.

The only people who would take such jobs are those writers who cannot make £25 an hour – not including preparation time – from creative writing. And why would you want to employ creative writing teachers who cannot make more than £25 an hour – not including preparation time – from creative writing on anything more than the most limp part-time contract? That’s 3 or 4 cents a word – without preparation time – and even the third and fourth ranks of internet writing make that. Moderately competent Amazon only romance novels make that.

Why would you hire someone who cannot achieve that on a permanent or higher paid contract?

12 thoughts on “Snigger”

  1. If the uni can get competent teachers for £25/hr then more power to them.

    What do the writers/teachers gain from this? First, they get to write “I teach at Oxford” on their CVs. Second, they get out of the house for a few hours (writing is lonely work). Third, they get to interact with smart Oxford students, which is mentally stimulating in itself, and can lead to ideas for more creative writing.

    Or you could just argue “those who can’t, teach”.

  2. A full time professional person works only around 1500 hours a year, and at £25 and hour, that could amount to £37500, which is more than the average industrial wage – so the rate isn’t badly wrong. As a salary, it’s not far different to the starting salary for a junior lecturer. Suppose the person involved works only a fraction of those hours for one employer, and another for someone else, and so on, he/she will earn more if they work more hours – provided they fill their time. The equation gets more complicated if the different employers pay different rates, but then the more employers one has, the more likely it is that the “employee” can claim self-employed status, and thus defray costs and expenses, making the pay essentially higher.
    Another scenario is that if they work for someone whose requirements are slack, say a neighbouring college, and the £25/hr is for work in a vacation, then it’s earned on top of a salary.
    If I have spare time, and can’t get work for my normal rate six times higher, then I’d consider £25/hr especially if it was in a different field to my main specialism and I wasn’t undercutting myself. Since I help out various organisations for free anyway, and I’m self employed, I don’t consider £25/hr all that bad, actually. It wouldn’t be bad for someone with a pension, for example, and is better than the tills at Tesco. A retired teacher might find that it was good enough on top of a pension, especially if they don’t have to pay NI or pension contributions out of it, and it doesn’t take them out of the 20% tax band.
    I’m not sure that I’d want it as my only pay.

  3. Excavator Man,

    “It wouldn’t be bad for someone with a pension, for example, and is better than the tills at Tesco. A retired teacher might find that it was good enough on top of a pension, especially if they don’t have to pay NI or pension contributions out of it, and it doesn’t take them out of the 20% tax band.”

    And that’s where it really works. You take people with a wealth of experience, but who maybe don’t want the stress of doing the thing they do or the hours, to teach others. My father did a module on local government law for a few years when he retired. He’d been working in local government law for about 25 years. My main college lecturer was a woman who had been a programmer and had kids and decided that college hours would suit her better. And I’m glad she taught me rather than someone who had finished university and stayed and was just teaching to the book.

  4. I’d never thought that Oxford would offer creative writing but here it is

    A 2 year part time course with 30 places. If it does what it says on the tin, it could be quite a demanding course:

    “The first year concentrates equally on prose fiction, poetry, dramatic writing and narrative non-fiction. There is a significant critical reading and analysis component, which is linked to the writerly considerations explored in each of the genres”

    I wonder how many teaching staff are proficient in all these disciplines?

    But what does it lead to?

    “Graduate destinations have included doctoral programmes in creative writing; teaching creative writing; publishing creative work in chosen field; careers in arts/media”

    I suspect that most students end up in academia rather than as professional writers. It is creative writing, after all, rather than technical writing, journalism, blogging, writing speeches for Greta Attenborough etc. And it will cost you between £16.4k and £25.8k,depending on your origin.

    Still 300 people apply every year… And the tutors complain about low pay?

    “The MSt offers a clustered learning format of five residences, two guided retreats and one research placement over two years. The research placement, a distinguishing feature of the course, provides between one and two weeks’ in-house experience of writing in the real world”

    It does seem part-time for the teachers.

  5. BoM4,

    Thanks for the supporting comments. I didn’t include a whole swathe of people who might like the job, including second earners in a family or those who just like the hours.

    Unis often do dirty tricks, however, like leaving a 2 week gap between successive contracts so the service isn’t continuous. I know someone whose regular gigs with one organisation were cancelled without even a goodbye note and worse, on enquiry he was told that there wasn’t any call for his services (which wasn’t true). He picked up the same gig with a private provider for twice the fee!

  6. … and I forgot to say that ‘preparation time’ isn’t the same as one develops a course and repeat it. It’s a big hit on the presenter the first time, and also the second time when you have tested it for real and found the shortcomings, but after that it gets progressively easier. After 15 years I imagine that the prep time is quite small.

    Besides, it was ‘sometimes as low as’ not always exactly £25/hr.

  7. I used to know slightly a chap who had a lectureship in a dismal northern university. He arranged to go to Cambridge for one or two days a week during term (Friday and Saturday were his favourites, I think) so that he could have some fun teaching bright students in college “supervisions”, and taking a few meals in his old college. He’d have made a few bob too but whether that covered much more than his bill for travel, tuck, and a night’s accommodation I don’t know.

    I should have asked whether he could claim those expenses against tax.

    I believe there are London lawyers who routinely travel to Cambridge to give supervisions on Saturdays. Maybe they keep their costs down by catching a late train back home.

  8. Dennis, A Vast Reservior of Bad Fiction

    Why would you hire someone who cannot achieve that on a permanent or higher paid contract?

    Because they are available, and available on the cheap. The position is more about occupying space than it is about providing excellence. After all, we’re talking creative writing here.

    As a tenured English professor once told me, all teachers of English have at least one bad novel in them… It’s why they are teaching in the first place.

  9. “This course is offered by the Department for Continuing Education” (aka Kellogg College (no, really)).

    As I live within easy driving distance, I’ve used their courses (weekend and evening) extensively and they’re very good. You are taught by experts, attracted by the cachet of the Oxford name, and the ‘students’ are often retired professors and similar. But I’ve never been attracted by ‘creative writing’.

  10. Bloke in the Fourth Reich

    TBF, universities are the only institutions allowed to blatantly ignore employment law and hire people repeatedly on fixed-term contracts for years and years.

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