An employee experience survey for staff looking to share their ‘experiences, views and ideas to help the University improve’ has raised concerns over lack of Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA) inclusion. Despite purportedly including GTAs in the survey population, out of over 3,300 respondents reached, only 40 were GTAs.
Philip* and Casey*, both long-standing GTAs, revealed to Craccum they did not receive an invitation to complete the survey, despite being teaching assistants for over a year. Yet their exclusion was not a mistake, but instead because GTAs less than 3 months into contract were not eligible.
But how did this affect Philip and Casey, who have both been GTAs longer than that?
“The survey went out earlier this year at a time when most GTAs would be newly starting contracts,” explains Philip. GTAs will begin new contracts with the semester, and finish following exams. “So it seems like the criteria meant that a lot of GTAs weren’t included.” That extends to Philip and Casey themselves, who despite their tenure, were caught between contracts.
The survey, conducted externally by Willis Towers Watson, focused on ‘wellbeing and the University’s COVID-19 experience’, with several opinion questions allowing for unconstrained comment.
Philip and Casey believe that while the University can view GTAs as a transient workforce at times, including their opinions is quite important to understanding their views. Both describe having differing experiences working with lecturers, and feel it is important to provide and assess feedback as a means of evaluating teaching, and what existing course delivery structures work.
“[GTAs] have a massive impact on the learning environment,” recognises Casey. “Especially in these courses where you have 1 or 2 tutorials a week.” While lecturers have the benefit of sifting through SET evaluations from students, these comments often do not reach GTAs. “I’ve never had a lecturer send me any formal feedback from [them],” says Casey, despite the occasional comment or praise passing through.
Experiences for GTAs do differ quite a lot depending on the lecturer. This is evidenced by Philip’s account, where efforts were made to engage GTAs for feedback. “I had worked for a lecturer who has included the teaching team in a lot of the decisions, and that’s totally appreciated and valued as a GTA. Not that I had much to add, but it’s really nice to know this person values my thoughts on course delivery.”
Describing another experience, Philip comments he did receive feedback from students on his teaching. “Though with your contracts determined by the lecturer you work for, it’s in a precarious situation [to suggest anything actionable].”
While recognising the opportunity for regular feedback is beneficial, Casey admits it is difficult to imagine what a GTA survey might look like, given experiences are so course dependent. “[However], I think it is important for the University to consider, because there are potentially holes in the quality of teaching, and also the quality of support.”
Ultimately, Philip admits for himself, this is not a matter of needing to provide feedback as he is happy with his contract, but instead having the opportunity to communicate structural improvements to the University as a whole.
“It makes me wonder why they didn’t [include us], and to what level of value they place our feedback.”
The university has not responded to request for further comment about what alternative avenues exist for GTAs looking to provide feedback.
* names redacted.
 this information was provided to Craccum by the University under Official Information Act.