Ph.D. students at Queen’s University Belfast complained of being paid less than minimum wage and some are turning to sex work as a result. Many post-graduate doctoral students work at the university while completing their degree, funding their studies by teaching undergraduates or marking exams.

However, a survey conducted by the University and College Union  and Queen’s Student’s Union states that 40% of Ph.D. students are expected to do unpaid work.

It claims that while Ph.D. teaching assistants are paid £34 per hour (Ksh 4,200 per hour) of classroom teaching, they are not compensated for the five and half hours of preparation that goes into the average class. This means that Ph.D. students are actually paid £5.23 an hour (Ksh 646) which is well below the £7.20 which is Ksh 889 the minimum wage for over 25s in the United Kingdom.

One of the 247 post grads said she and other female students have been forced to turn to escorting to fund their education as a result.  “When refused an application to the hardship fund female postgrads are working as escorts and in the sex industry to make the money – in my case to pay fees,” the student anonymously reported. “The university does not wish to address the issue of female students, many in financial crisis and from working class backgrounds with no access to credit, working in the sex industry.”

Another student said that when they told the university their hourly wage had fallen below the national minimum after extra marking was introduced, they were threatened with dismissal. “I refused to do the extra work without additional payment and I informed the school that in my opinion,  the extra work would push my effective hourly rate below the national minimum wage,”

But Queen’s University deny the claims, saying it “delivers a world class training and research experience” to its 1,365 postgraduate research students. The University’s postgraduate research students report very high ratings in the areas of training to develop research skills, attending and presenting papers at academic research conferences.

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