Here is an excerpt from our analysis:
To begin, let us consider how some of the expenses of graduate students are covered. 87% of participants had received funding in order to support their education but only half of them reported that it was sufficient to cover living expenses.
Moreover, 70% of participants had to work and study at the same time in 2013 and only 8% could only afford to study. The process of obtaining a degree, therefore, demands additional labour; we have to acknowledge labour as an intrinsic part of the current educational system.
Specifically concerning academic labour, most participants reported having worked as TAs (60%) and RAs (30%) among other activities on campus.
More than half of these academic workers commented that they were not adequately compensated, with some of them reporting that a breakdown of their wages put them below the minimum income line.
Only about 30% said that they would refuse academic work if the offered compensation was insufficient. In general, a total amount was more attractive than an hourly wage.
From the responses we collected, we may imagine the precarity felt and expressed by students and recent graduates as something that has accompanied many – if not most of them throughout their academic careers and may have been communicated to them from a variety of sources: the overall economic conditions, instructors, fellow students. An alternative view of the value of labour as experience and as a part of the training of future scholars was not proposed by our respondents, while compensation seemed to play a crucial role.
The question of precarity we are examining here is one that concerns the whole of society and not simply graduate students or recent graduates. As such, it involves politics that should go beyond the university walls and wage battle at the source. Student protests are one way to begin. Where the production of knowledge is concerned, the insinuation of precarity into everyday life at the academy could be understood as a part of a new regime of scholarship that bodes the creation of new forms of academic subjectivity and subjectification, the cultivation of a certain mind-set that may have far-reaching and detrimental consequences for free thought in the foreseeable future.