History graduate students were expected to teach the Historical Argument and Practice paper without payment Rosie Bradbury

Following a successful campaign to ensure payment for teaching of the Historical Argument and Practice (HAP) paper, a compulsory part of the historical tripos, all graduate students within the history faculty will now be paid for their work, bringing to an end the only case of unpaid graduate teaching within Cambridge.

An open letter published in late May and sent to all students and staff in the history faculty called for an end to “all unpaid graduate teaching which has been normalised under the HAP teaching scheme” and had been signed by over 350 people.

The successful proposal, presented by the chair of the faculty Professor Tim Harper, called for the lecturing portion of HAP classes be paid at a standard hourly rate of £81.81, and the seminar portion of classes be paid at a standard hourly rate of £40.85. The proposal also stated for all teaching jobs to be properly advertised, in order to ensuring equity of access for graduate students in the faculty. 

HAP graduate teaching will financed for the next year by the faculty’s own resources, but is still in its pilot stages, pending consideration by the School.

HAP is a compulsory paper taken by all third year students studying history, covering a range of historiographical topics. Teaching involves seminar–based classes which revolve around the various topics covered within the paper. These classes are currently devised and led by graduate students, who receive no pay for the time they spend on this work.

“A major victory for union organising among grads”

Stephanie Mawson, one of the students involved in the campaign against unpaid work, said that students were “celebrating this as a major victory for union organising among grads, adding: “this win is going to have a ripple effect across the University”. 

During the campaign, Varsity spoke to several graduate students who teach HAP classes at Cambridge.

Jeremy Garsha, a third year PhD student researching the cultural history of colonial islands, explained that while the teaching is optional, many graduates feel it is necessary because it is the only experience they can get during their studies of small group teaching.

Garsha, who is has previously studied in the United States, and Hanebaum, who studied for her masters in Canada, pointed out that they had gained a wealth of teaching experience during their previous studies, and now with limited opportunities for teaching in Cambridge, their only option was the unpaid HAP work.

“As soon as you tell people about it they’re shocked”

Garsha spoke about how the recent strikes encouraged him to get involved in the campaign. He described how it was when history graduate students spent time speaking to students in other faculties whilst on the picket lines that they discovered the history faculty was unique in not paying the graduate students.

“As soon as you tell people about it they’re shocked” he said, saying even his supervisor was unaware of the fact he was unpaid for this work.

Simone Hanebaum, in her third year researching early modern British history, added that in terms of getting work experience to use in the future, Cambridge’s supervision system is “useless”, as few other universities are looking for this kind of teaching.

“It’s something that shouldn’t be accepted at a leading institution like Cambridge”

Hanebaum explained that the faculty felt they could justify the lack of payment because it was the graduate students who wanted more class teaching. The scheme is described as ‘training’ because the graduate students are supposed to receive mentoring during their teaching. However, Hanebaum said “There hasn’t been a real structure for mentorship”, as they received little feedback for their work.

While the classes only last for two hours, and they would only teach one or two a year, Freddy Foks, in his final year researching the history of anthropology, said that preparation for that one class could take up to a week’s work, all of which was unpaid and took away time from his research.

Speaking of the decision to use the open letter format, Foks explained how it was useful to “show something to the faculty to make it clear that we had this support.”

Garsha and Hanebaum attributed the success of the open letter to the support of undergraduates, many of whom signed it. “The open letter has become successful since the undergraduates found out” said Garsha, with Hanebaum adding that she “can’t stress how much that means to the people that teach you to have your support.”


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All three of the graduate students interviewed had been optimistic that the campaign would prove successful, as Hanebaum added that the funding required “shouldn’t be hard to find”. To cover all the graduate teaching under the HAP scheme, it would cost the history faculty £3,500 a year.

“They have a moral and ethical obligation to acknowledge this as work”, she added. 

Garsha also spoke of the symbolic meaning of the payment “I do care that it’s paid because that validates it.” He told us that he’d be willing to be paid less than he was for supervisions, so long as he was being paid, referencing the picket line slogan “grad work is real work” as a key factor in this campaign.

Hanebaum described how Harper has been sympathetic to the cause. “He is trying to engage with us.” Garsha summarised his view on the unpaid work saying, “it’s something that shouldn’t be accepted at a leading institution like Cambridge”.

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