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PhD Paperbag Protest Highlights Culture of Fear at King’s

 

Photography by Ryan Chang

A protest was held outside the entrance to Strand Campus calling for a better deal for PhD students at King’s. The protesters wore paper bags over their heads to illustrate the self-censorship caused by what they called a ‘culture of fear’ amongst doctorates.

Anya Govus, 2nd year Physics and Philosophy undergrad - photo by Ryan Chang

Two undergraduate students supported PhD student Roger Hallam in canvassing and staging the public sit-in. The absence of doctorate students reflects an academic world in which reputation matters and speaking out is perceived as putting their careers in jeopardy.

Andy Warren, 2nd year Philosophy undergraduate - photo by Ryan Chang

Andy Warren, a 2nd year Philosophy undergraduate said “It’s a case of exploitation. Undergraduates must help to give PhD students a voice.”

“For me, the catalyst for joining the cause was reading the anonymous survey of graduate students in Roar News! I found it quite shocking that up to 90% of the GTAs (graduate teaching assistants) had to work more hours than they had been contracted.”

“King’s College should make paying their academics their first priority – there’s enough money swilling around and if the College can upgrade the campus to incorporate Bush House across the street then it can definitely treat their staff fairly.”

Roger Hallam, PhD researcher, organiser of "Radical Think and Do Campaign" - photo by Ryan Chang

PhD student and activist Roger Hallam said, “There is a huge gap between how PhD posts are publicised by King’s and the reality faced by the doctorates. How treatment of PhD students has a knock on effect on standards across the university and ultimately its reputation.”

Currently King’s has 2745 PhD Students with a large amount teaching undergraduate students in many departments.

The college came under fire last year over its treatment of the PhD students who teach following a campaign for better pay conditions.

In a statement the College said, “We are strongly supportive of our Graduate Teaching Assistants and believe that the important work that they undertake deserves to be fairly remunerated. Postgraduate research students are restricted to 6 hours per week of paid work in order to ensure that the primary task of studying for a research degree is not jeopardised. Our policy on rates of pay is clear, fair, and the evidence suggests that it is followed by most Faculties and Departments.”

KCLSU Vice President Ben Hunt has issued a statement on behalf of the Students’ Union stating that: “KCLSU stands in solidarity with GTAs in their fight for proper pay for all their hours of work, both in teaching and in preparation time. I will continue to lobby the College for pay increases across the board, as well as supporting student campaigners and actions that will lead to this end. I support the promotion of GTA issues that was done yesterday and will continue to fight for more PhD space across our campuses, and argue against the College culture of treating our GTAs like free labourers or apprentices rather than employees.”

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