How much do they pay you to teach at Oxford?

…a very un-British question.   But, given that I was raised in the USA, I’ll answer it.

It depends on whether you are on the permanent teaching staff or not.  If you’re hired to teach, you might start near £37,000 as a University Lecturer, or start as a combination of a Faculty Lecturer position at around £22,000/year but also have some college responsibilities that would add a moderate chunk to the recipts.  (Of course, when I say “start”, I mean after university and graduate school and maybe a post-doc position.  You “start” at age 26 or so.)

And, you might rise to be a full professor somewhere, but probably not Oxford.  People come and go to follow career opportunities.  Full professors are very improbable objects: very few people become one, either because they slipped up somewhere, got unlucky, or just decided the grass was greener outside academia.  But, despite their improbability, some manage to exist, and the ones that do earn about £62,000/year.

But if you’re not on teaching staff, teaching pay is low.

I taught some lectures this last term, and my measure of how large the pay is, is that I haven’t even bothered to find out how much I was paid.  (Have I been paid?   I wonder if I forgot to fill out some paperwork.) Probably £50 per class, give or take a factor of two.  Because they were a new set of lectures, it took a full day of work to prepare each one.  (And, I worried about that first lecture for all my spare minutes for the previous week or two…) So, the actual pay turns out to be something like £6/hour, less if you count the worrying time.  But, of course, if I teach the same lectures next year, the worrying will be gone, the work will be less, and I may make £10/hour.  After a few years, once the course is well polished, I might manage to make £30/hour lecturing.

This sounds a bit like a complaint.   It is, and it isn’t.  I get to talk and people listen. (Except for that tall woman who kept nodding off near the front, a bit to my right.  She has an amazing ability to sit bolt upright while semi- or un-conscious.  I kept expecting her to topple over or slouch, but no.) I get the feeling that I’m making their lives easier by telling them stuff which I leaned by hard work and sweat: hopefully they won’t have to do as much.  And a good feeling of contributing to our little bit of culture and intelligence, tiny amidst a universe that is mostly filled with stuff no more intelligent than hydrogen atoms.  So, there are other motivations beyond the money.  (Which is just as well.)

But, what I am complaining about is the stupid financial system of Oxford University and the colleges.  A year ago I tutored a bunch of students in general linguistics and psycholinguistics.  Each tutorial brings in £24 or so.  But the hours…

Some of the hours aren’t hidden.  To do a good tutorial, you need to read the last few tests and pick a topic that is likely to be tested.  Then, you need to scrounge around and find some good papers and book chapters for the student(s) to read, arrange the class via e-mail and assign the topic and readings.  Finally, you read the papers, give the students some sensible comments, and then see the students. All more-or-less good fun.  And finally, you go to a website and do a little paperwork to get paid.

Did I say finally?  I thought so, but a few weeks later the P45 forms started rolling in.  Those are tax-related forms saying that my employment was being terminated at one college after another.  Oxford, you see, is a University and a collection of colleges.  The colleges are each separate corporate entities and they contract with the University for examination services and some teaching.  I knew this in theory, of course.  But I hadn’t quite realized that I would become a temporary employee of each of the colleges from which I had a student.  Eight of them, as it turns out.

So, I was a college employee for a few hours, then terminated.  OK.  No problem.  Except that means that I had 9 employers last year.  And that broke the only truly wonderful thing about the British taxman.

As an American, and one who has done a little consulting and this and that, I’ve gotten used to filling in 40 page tax forms.  But I hate them.  Taxes are a necessity of civilization, but I really detest finicky paperwork, and finicky paperwork that costs money is worse.  It’s kind of like rubbing your nose in the loss.

So, coming to the UK was a relief.  Taxes were computed automatically.  The taxman slides the money quietly out of the University’s coffers, you don’t see it go, and you don’t have to fill out any forms.  (It’s not always as simple as this, but it can be.)  It is a painless process, leaving only a mild feeling of genteel poverty.   I loved the PAYE system.

But, that only works when you have a single employer.  Now I had nine.  So, this year, I have British and American tax forms.  One or two of my employers paid me just £24.  But because of this, I have to learn lots of British tax law (hours!) and fiddle with finicky forms that have semi-incomprehensible instructions (you have to learn specialized phrases like “the total of renewals”).  And, then I lost one of the damned P45 forms, and anyway, it’s added 30 hours of work to the total work of tutorials.  I think my pay for tutoring is about £5/hour again.  That’s after computing the taxes and before paying them. And that’s not counting the time spent worrying about doing the taxes right.

I am amazed that Oxford cannot figure out how to pay me without forcing me to spend as much time taxing as teaching.