We should welcome the opportunities Labour’s mooted National Education Service (NES) presents to transform education.
One area that especially deserves attention is postgraduate and early career research. Graduate teaching assistants, hourly paid tutors, and other precarious education workers would benefit immediately from Labour’s policy commitments on workplace rights, including their commitments to repeal the 2016 Trade Union Act and to ban zero hours contracts.
Nevertheless, abolishing tuition fees and providing maintenance grants at the postgraduate level can only go so far to provide doctoral students and others in the beginning stages of their academic careers with the necessary resources to conduct their research.
Labour also needs to seriously look at how public funding for university research will be sourced and allocated. It is especially important to consider doctoral researchers since, although they are classified as students rather than university employees, PhD candidates perform a significant amount of a typical university’s research.
While publication companies and academic institutions reap the benefits of this research, the authors themselves do not tend to be paid for their labour. The NES provides a chance to consider whether PhD candidates are best regarded as workers rather than students.