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Issue 55 – Winter 2016 cheesegratermagazine.org

Our Survey Says... Declining Student Experience Threatens to Hit UCL Where it Hurts – in the Wallet

Teaching on the cheap: UCL’s exploitation of teaching asssitants revealed • Pay much lower than at other universities • Women earn 22% less than male colleagues • International students earn up to 15% less (Read full investigation on page 3)


2 Winter 2016 The Cheese Grater

Bloomsbury plans progress Huw Steer

At last, there is more news of the much-missed Bloomsbury Theatre, as students were finally briefed on the Bloomsbury renovation consultation proces. Simon Cane, UCL’s Director of Public and Cultural Engagement at UCL, Frank Penter, the Bloomsbury’s Theatre Coordinator, and Nick Edmonds, Activities and Events Officer briefed arts society representatives. Also present was Matt Aldridge, the Student Arts Officer, who attended the initial consultation meetings.

Plans begin to take shape

No Approval Yet However, the plan has not yet been approved by UCL. The Bloomsbury’s future rests on the ability of the project board to convince UCL management that their new operating model can cover the costs of running the theatre adequately – and until they do, the specifics of the new model can’t be decided, which means specific student concerns like backstage renovations and rehearsal access have yet to be addressed at all. There has also been no mention of a potential replacement for the Garage Theatre, which closed last year.

In the plan devised, Bloomsbury will reopen in Term 1 of the 2018/19 academic year, with the main construction work to start at the end of 2017. The new design will be as similar to the old theatre as possible – mostly because this allows the quickest build. With specialist external design consultants Charcoal Blue already involved, this seems fairly promising. The Bloomsbury’s operating model is also to be revised. In the new theatre, students will be given 5 extra weeks in which to perform and set up productions. Commercial usage has been reduced to compensate for this, but Cane and Nick Edmonds intend to promote the regular Bloomsbury programme as much as possible within UCL to help cover this shortfall. The board now have an incentive independent of student concerns to reopen the Bloomsbury by 2018: it will be the theatre’s 50th anniversary, and the Bloomsbury administration are keen to celebrate it in style with a grand re-opening programme.

What Bloomsbury Theatre looks like today

Doubts in the long term The main concern of SAO Matt Aldridge, however, is that once this year’s graduates are ceremonially dumped onto the streets, there will be almost no students left who performed in the old Bloomsbury. The new operating model of the Bloomsbury is nebulous enough already, with the plan as yet unapproved, if all the students who knew the old theatre are gone by the time it’s decided, it will be far harder to get student con-

Society Bitch Society Bitch has learnt that, despite organising both the Winter Arts Festival AND the Variety Night, Drama Society couldn’t find a single act worthy of entertaining its legions of fans. Instead, the poor audience had to put up with performances from that very worst of sketch groups, The UCL Graters. Far from a one off, it seems like interest in Drama has been waning all term. Their much-hyped monologue slam drew a gigantic audience of three (someone call Wembley!), and there were so few bids of quality for the Term 1 Garage Show that the bigwigs almost screened a three-day “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” marathon instead. These problems seem to be contagious for UCLU arts societies. Even the Culture Club have had problems, ruining Soc Bitch’s social schedule by failing to organise a Winter Arts Ball this term. Despite it being written in their constitution that they have to hold a ball in December, and despite employing all the arts social secs to scrabble to find a venue, CC failed to find one in time to meet the Union’s 30-days-prior deadline. So much for festivity! Have a happy Christmas everyone - I’m going to spend mine sitting in my unused ballgown, binging on “It’s Always Sunny...”.

cerns across in the implementation. All Cane’s placating promises of additional student access, backstage renovations, and a swift re-opening will come to nothing if UCL can’t be convinced; and if the new operating model isn’t decided soon, there won’t be any student veterans of the Bloomsbury left to fight for it.


The Cheese Grater Winter 2016 3

Postgraduate teaching assistants overworked and underpaid  Thasmia Khan A UCLU report, released this past week, has laid bare the unfair and exploitative conditions postgraduate teaching assistants (PGTA) experience A startling gender pay gap has also been revealed, along with a big difference between the pay package of international PGTAs and that of their British counterparts.

Low Pay UCLU estimates that PGTAs receive an average of £14.68, which is drastically less than other universities such as Queen Mary’s, who pay £73 per lecture, and University of East Anglia, who pay £54 per lecture. Salary also varies between UCL departments, depending on how cash rich they are. The School of Management is at the highest end, paying £20 an hour, whilst the School of European Languages pays only £13 an hour. What’s more, the amount of work demanded of PGTAs normally exceeds the hours for which they are paid. The average PGTA will work an extra 3.h hours’ unpaid overtime in order to complete tasks such as marking, preparation and feedback. As a result, some departments’ PGTAs take home a real pay of under the minimum wage. A third of PGTAs take home less than the London Living Wage, of which almost half are women. Those working at the School of European Languages receive a paltry £5 an hour. This is in breach of UCL’s HR policy on maximum teaching hours, which states that teaching assistants must be paid ‘for contact hours and such time as is necessary for preparation of teaching material and assessment of work’.

One PGTA said that, “If I only ‘worked to rule’ on the amount of hours I was paid to prepare for seminars, I would not be able to prepare them adequately and most of my time would be spent doing admin or giving feedback on written work.” The dispute over pay also reveals how little respect PGTAs command. One teaching assistant told of how they were reduced to the department’s butler, pouring wine at the department’s postgraduate party for £12.14 an hour.

Gender & international gap UCLU identified that the pay gap between male and female PGTAs was 22%, with men on average taking home £16.36 per hour, whilst women pocketed £13.23 hourly. Women also work a higher percentage of unpaid hours, working 33.4% of their hours unpaid, compared to men who worked 27% of their hours unpaid. As such, if one accounts for unpaid hours, men are paid £11.88 per hour and women are paid £8.85, below the London Living Wage. Furthermore, there exists a gap between what is paid to international students and British students, with teaching assistants from abroad earning 15% less. Disillusionment with unequal and low pay lead some to abandon the idea of a career in academia all together.

Opaque hiring processes Often, when trying to find a PGTA job at UCL, it is about who you know rather than what you know. Respondents to a PGTA survey stated that the recruitment of TAs is both ‘lacking in transparency’ and ‘unfair.’ UCL’s HR policy states that PGTAs must be

chosen in line with the Recruitment and Selection policy, which mandates: a job description, applications made with a CV, an interview panel, and shortlisting. Yet many of these requirements are ignored, which leads to disparities between departments and a lack of clarity on the criteria used to choose a candidate. Furthermore, all PGTA vacancies are supposed to be published in advance on the central recruitment portal. But, as to be expected from the university that brought you bellogate, UCL has yet to master its IT systems. The portal is currently broken and so jobs cannot be advertised on the system. Yet, even before the IT issues, jobs would rarely be widely circulated. 41.6% of those who were asked why they did not work as a teaching assistant stated that they had not seen any opportunities advertised in their department, and 36.5% said that they felt that there was a lack of posts. Again, hiring fluctuates so drastically between departments due to a complete lack of central oversight. Postgraduate Sabbatical Officer, Mark Crawford, on releasing the report blasted the university, saying “UCL almost uniquely underperforms in its treatment of postgrads who teach – even by the poor standards of the sector.” The Provost, Michael Arthur, declared that the findings were “horrendous”, whilst the Director of HR signaled his intent to implement urgent action. Yet, amid the maelstrom of budget cuts and rising student numbers, the nature of these actions remain to be seen.


4 Winter 2016 The Cheese Grater

Cut The Rent strike again The newly renovated Garden Halls’ high rent and poor living conditions prompts a potential new wave of rent strikes. Jason Murugesu

Exasperated by broken promises and high rent, Cut The Rent activists have plans to stage the first rent strike of the year in Garden Halls, an intercollegiate hall in central Bloomsbury.

No rooms at the inn The problems began even before term started. Shortly before moving in, prospective residents were notified that the accommodation would not be finished in time for their arrival. Instead, students were relocated in other halls for the first week of term. Since then, construction works has been a regular fixture in and around Garden Halls.

Garden Halls claims to offer “high quality, affordable student accommodation with outstanding facilities”. However, for the first weekend of December, heating and hot water was not functioning, leaving students freezing. There has also been nagging issues with the Internet and waste disposal. For the privilege of living in these halls, students can be expected to pay up to £258.65 per week, a deal that seems neither affordable nor high quality.

Private profit The halls are outsourced by the University of London to the University Partnership Programme (UPP), a private finance initiative scheme owned by the Alma Mater Fund, which is itself managed by private

equity and venture capital firm 3i and Barclays Private Equity. Sources indicate that the net earnings for the Jersey-based UPP’s shareholders amounts to approximately £64.4 million.

Big Brother State Dissent about sky-high rent and freezing conditions is being suppressed. Ther is active censorship and removal of complaints posted on the Garden Halls Facebook page, and an alternative complaint procedure has yet to be elaborated upon. Sources have told the Cheese Grater that the accommodation’s management has effectively banned the campaign from canvassing in Garden Halls, fearing a full-scale revolt.

Provost continues to cozy up to the Chinese UCL make deal with anti-free speech Peking University Ollie Phelan

A year after Michael Arthur welcomed Chinese president Xi Jinping to the Insitute of Education for a festival of backslapping sycophancy (see CG 50), UCL have announced a joint MBA programme with Peking University. This represents the latest of a raft of deals UCL has made with dubious nations. Management have received lots of criticism in the past for being too close to human rights abusing regimes such as Kazakhstan and Qatar. The latest news will not cheer campaigneres, as China has been accused of abuses against human rights and free-speech repeatedly over the years. But Arthur’s usual protestation

that UCL plays the Western liberal civiliser falls especially flat here. At the beginning of December this year, Xi Jinping restated his intensions to increase ideological control over universities. “Higher eduaction,” Jinping declared, “must adhere to correct political orientation”, and univerisities must become “strongholds that adhere to party leadership”. Whilst Peking University used to be one of the sole bastions of freespeech, notably playing a key rule in the Tiananmen Square protests, it seems to have subsequently ceded to the government’s ideological controls. In an article published in an influential communist journal, written by

the university’s party committee, the university signalled its desire to “fight against” anti-communist criticism. This follows the effective firing of then professor Xia Yeliang, 53, who had dared to write a few blog posts extolling the need for democracy in China and calling for reforming the rule of law One would imagine that London’s so-called Global University would baulk at getting into bed with such an institution, but for mangement, business seems to trump any global values one might hold. In any case, with foreign students often paying in excess of £20,000 a year in fees, cash-strapped management will be licking their lips at the projected Chinese influx.


The Cheese Grater Winter 2016 5

Christmas TV listings Here’s everything that will be showing this Christmas on the TV set you don’t own. The Partisan- A heartwarming fantasy film about a man who budges on his long-held political convictions after being confronted with contrary evidence. Critics are calling it “completely implausible”, and “I went in intending to hate it, and that’s exactly what I did.” All The Presents Men- Following last year’s scandalous revelations about the workhouse

conditions at the Santa’s workshop comes this thrilling dramatisation of real-life events. Danny DeVito plays “Deep Snow”, the elf whistleblower who blew the lid on the Santa operation (having made both the whistle and the lid himself ).

Bad Santa 2 - Look, who even knows at this point. A Daily Mail review gave it: “****”, which we’re guessing is a bleeped-out expletive.

Blind Hate: Topical new game show in which blindfolded minorities must decide whether a guest hurling insults at them is racist or just expressing genuine economic anxiety. For other politically-themed game shows, see: the White House special of I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!, an NSA-sponsored season of Big Brother, and, of course, the Pointless New Year’s edition, Oh God, It’s All So Pointless.

Contributors: Leo Freund-Williams, Thasmia Khan, Jason Murugesu, Sam Summers, Ollie Phelan, Alex Powell, Jack Redfern, Tara Sarangi, Anna Saunders, Huw Steer, Sam Summers.


6 Winter 2016 The Cheese Grater

Poetry Corner Do I exist just so you can fill me with all the things you hate? Like a black disgusting mess inside my soul. I put on a brave face so you can’t see my pain, Passive, unchanging, smiling but afraid. I’ll try and hold back my despair so it doesn’t spill out, My words filtered, delicately chosen. I’m on a leash that I’m too afraid to tug at, Even when you push me too far. And I’m powerless, Useless. I remember that time you put your hand round my neck, And slammed my head against the wall again and again. Afterwards you locked me in the darkness, With nothing but myself for company. You make me feel used, dirty, unclean, And when you’re inside me I just feel empty. My name is Henry. I am a hoover.

The White Resort From our American Correspondent The Cheese Grater can officially confirm that President-elect Donald Trump’s domestic reforms are well underway, as he begins the process of turning the White House into a spa resort and casino. The President-elect has also laid out his economic plan for the country, stating that the “White Resort” will finally provide the USA with the chance to achieve a budget surplus by beating the Chinese at poker and winning back the $1.25 trillion worth of debt. Trump has kept his promises on immigration and security reforms, and has come up with a fool-proof plan to keep Muslims out of the country. Border Control will use hyper-sensitive screening techniques to keep out Islamic migrants, such as asking them if they are in fact Muslim, measuring the length of their beard, and checking their bags for any copies of “Al Qaeda Quarterly”. The Presidentelect’s progress with the building of a wall on the Mexican border has been encouraging – in fact Mexican workers have started building the wall themselves in order to keep Trump supporters out of Mexico. Lastly, Trump has also revealed his radical plans for healthcare, which largely consist of keeping Obamacare, but renaming it MakeAmerica-Great-Again-Care. The new nurses will all be Miss Universe runners-up, and breast implant surgery will be free under the new system. ¡Dios mio!

This is my pain.

This man’s reaction to getting pranked was absolutely priceless! When local man Nick Fields was pranked on Saturday, his reaction was just utterly priceless. Paul O’Hara, the prankster in question, did not expect such a priceless reaction. “When I pranked him, I just didn’t expect him to react in that way. Utterly priceless!” Even Fields himself wasn’t sure what was to ensue: “I think what was so priceless about it was the juxtaposition of my reaction and the nature of the prank,” Fields said. “No one saw that coming. Not even me.” The police are looking into how someone could have reacted to a prank of that calibre in such an invaluable manner but have come up with no leads as of yet. “We’re looking into it, but unfortunately we have come up with no leads as of yet,” the police said.

Pranked man’s priceless reaction


The Cheese Grater Winter 2016 7

SAVAGE interviews Christmas’ most controversial figurehead, Santa Claus. William Reporter for Savage I stand outside the Lapland Embassy on Belgravia’s Chesham Place, shivering culturally in my D&G brogues. A homeless man approaches me for some change. I kneel, and pass him a copy of the latest SAVAGE. “Here,” I gently fold his hands over the glossy cover. “Turn to page 24 for a biting review of Ken Loach’s latest pessimistic northern discharge. The man just doesn’t understand aesthetics, does he?” The vagrant shuffles off, clutching his new bible. “So like us,” I whisper to myself, “so like us.” I disinfect my hands and lips with the same bleach SAVAGE uses on the editorial team and ring the embassy’s doorbell. I’m shown inside with such brusqueness that I barely have time to summarise Brave New World for the doorperson,

and before I know it I’m in front of the man himself – Santa Claus. He sips delicately from a bottle of Coca-Cola. I begin by moistening my finger with my vial of Hemingway’s saliva and turning the page of my Moleskine notebook, “I realise you’re a busy man so we won’t mince words-“ “-but we might mince pie!” Claus roars with festive laughter, interrupting my carefully phrased opening salvo. I cough once, dismissively. My parents didn’t pay for seven years of private schooling for me to be interrupted by a man who wasn’t even born in this country. I move on and begin to quiz Claus on whether he believes, as I do, that the commercialisation of Christmas is more of a symptom than a cause of suburban disenfranchisement. “Oh, let’s not bother with such trivial things. Come, my boy, tell me this: what

do you want for Christmas?” Claus’s booming baritone once again barrels over me. It’s almost as if the man has never been interviewed by an Arts and Culture Journal, let alone a Premier Arts and Culture Journal. I roll my pen between my fingers, wondering whether, if I throw it very hard, it might pierce the old man between the eyes. “Mr. Claus, I would appreciate it if you focused on the task at hand. I’m a busy man, and I have three hundred thousand posters in my bag that I need to put up over other people’s posters before nightfall, or no-one will know about our Celebration of Free Speech event.” “Come, come, young man. There are more important things in life than your magazine, surely.” Claus chuckles merrily to himself. It will be his last chuckle. My fist tightens around my pen.

Pi Comment: Why, at 21, I’m rejecting the damaging Santa Claus myth R. Dolph For all my 21 years, the esteemed St. Nicholas has managed to find the time, energy, and gymnastic prowess to fit his portly stature through my chimney every Christmas Eve. Or has he? I swallowed the establishment’s lies about this illogical fantasy for years, but now that I’ve reached 21, I’m calling their bluff: there is no way for this person to exist in our society. There is no Santa Claus. The mere notion of an apparently ageless man from the wilds of the Arctic Ocean flying through the sky in an airborne rickshaw is already insulting to the intelligence of the critical thinkers among us. Couple this with the fact he is led by unusually compliant animals – some wielding ostentatiously provocative facial decorations

– and we have before our trembling eyes a damaging, perverse distortion of reality. No matter how much joy or Christmas spirit he has in his heart, there’s absolutely almost no way his life is financially tenable in our neo-liberal, pluralist world. Check the maths. He works for a mere three weeks a year, busking outside department stores, but he has to buy presents for every person who writes to him? I’m no mathematician, but those numbers probably don’t match up. Thanks to my parents’ disingenuous motives, I still don’t know who’s eating my cookies, drinking my milk, and replacing my broken Scalextric on a yearly basis – but I can tell you for a fact that it probably isn’t Santa Claus.

Santa with another gullible child


8 Winter 2016 The Cheese Grater

‘Mama Turkey faces a Christmas grilling’

UCL Union Cheese Grater Magazine Society President—Will Orton Editor—Ollie Phelan Investigations Editor—Jason Murugesu Humour Editor—Jack Redfern

president@cheesegratermagazine.org editor@cheesegratermagazine.org investigations@cheesegratermagazine.org humour@cheesegratermagazine.org

© UCL Union, 25 Gordon Street, London WC1H 0AY. The views expressed herein are not necessarily those of UCL Union or the editor.

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