Major University departments will not pay student workers for July Open Days

The Oxford Student can reveal that there will be large disparities in how much students from different departments and faculties will be paid for working at the July Open days. The Open Days take place across the University each year in both colleges and departments and faculties.

Students working for the departments/faculties of History, Politics & International Relations, English Literature and Language, Medicine, History of Art and BioChem will receive no formal pay, and are instead asked to “volunteer”. Depending on the department, students may have access to a paid lunch or “reasonable” travel expenses. Classics only covered “reasonable” travel expenses at open days in September 2018 and March 2019.

A number of departments/faculties offer no formal pay, but instead offer Amazon or other vouchers. Students working for the Music Department will receive no formal pay but will instead receive a £50 Amazon voucher for a full day. Geography offers an Amazon voucher (of undisclosed value) and a sandwich for lunch. Oriental Studies offers a £20 Amazon voucher for five hours over two days. This works out at just £4 per hour. This is less than the minimum wage even for those under 18 years of age (£4.35 for under 18s), and considerably lower than the real living wage (£9/hr outside of London, according to The Living Wage Foundation). Similarly, Medics are offered a £10 book voucher for each morning or afternoon shift they work, and lunch if they work both.

This contrasts with other departments/faculties, including Chemistry, Material Sciences, Medieval and Modern Languages, Experimental Psychology, Archaeology, and Law which will formally pay students. Among these, Chemistry comes out on top, paying students £14.10 per hour as well as lunch. The Department of Computer Science stated that they “usually” pay student workers and provide lunch.

Student helpers are required to assist with a number of tasks, including welcoming prospective applicants, answering general enquiries, giving tours, hosting mock interviews, participating in Q&A sessions, and guiding applicants to other departments/faculties or colleges.

The contrast between many subjects is stark. Both the Law and English Open Days happen within the St Cross Building; but while the Law Faculty does pay students, as well as paying reasonable expenses, the English Faculty does not pay and will only cover lunch and reasonable travel expenses.

The Department of Politics and International Relations has sent four emails to date, including to Third Year PPEists undertaking Finals, asking for “volunteers” for the July Open Days. The email reads: “Volunteers are needed to staff the PPE information desks at the open days, which are on Wednesday 3 July, Thursday 4 July and Friday 20 September 2019. Any time you can give would be hugely appreciated!”

The Oxford Student can also reveal that staff from across the University are also requested to volunteer for the Open Days. The email sent to all University staff reads: “The Undergraduate Admissions and Outreach team are looking for staff volunteers to help greet prospective students to Oxford and give directions. To volunteer, please seek permission from your line manager”. Staff are asked to volunteer to collect and direct prospective students, usually being stationed at the train station or the coach station.

The University of Oxford told The Oxford Student: “Students and staff from across the University volunteer for ‘welcome duties’ at undergraduate open days every year, either for the full day or just for a couple of hours, welcoming visitors and giving directions. Students and staff voluntarily donate their time to take part in open days and there is absolutely no compulsion for them to take part. Some students may be paid or receive payment in kind such as vacation accommodation and practices will vary across the collegiate University.

“Students generally take part at the college or department level, however the Undergraduate Admissions Office often invites clubs and societies and as well as the SU and Sports Federation to come along to represent these aspects of student life. SU and Sports Fed officers tend to do this as part of their sabbatical role so the question of payment doesn’t arise. For clubs and societies in recent years we have offered travel expenses of up to £30 as we do want clubs and societies to be represented but it is also an opportunity for them to promote and raise the profile of their clubs and societies to prospective students.

“Staff from other areas of the University – usually administrative staff – are invited to volunteer for ‘welcome duties’ including at the train station. Many find the events a great way of learning about undergraduate recruitment and general student life at Oxford, and choose to take part over a number of years.  The Undergraduate Admissions Office don’t invite any college staff and students to do this as they will usually be needed at their college. The staff volunteers are paid as usual but that they volunteer for duties away from their usual day job at the discretion of their line manager as part of a whole university effort to make the Open Days a success.”

A petition has since been started calling on those departments/faculties which do not pay students to do so. The petition can be found here.

These revelations come as an increasing number of Colleges have introduced formal pay for their student workers during open days. Despite this trend, wide disparities remain between colleges also. The Oxford Student’s full breakdown of college open day pay can be found here.

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