Voracious reader and DPhil candidate blogs about books and scholarly life.
Summer schools are big business in Oxbridge. Colleges are never quiet: the students have hardly left for the vacation before groups of students from all over the world arrive for the summer (and sometimes Easter and winter) schools. Some of these summer schools are affiliated with certain colleges of the Universities of Oxford or Cambridge, providing excellent tutorials for the students and paying the teachers a fair wage. Some of these summer schools merely rent rooms in a College, call it an “Oxbridge” summer school, mislead the students and underpay the teachers.
I wanted to be a summer school teacher, although I had little teaching experience. Since English is one course all summer schools offer, I was hoping to still have a fair shot at securing a job. This is why I was very happy to be contacted in May, along with all of the other English graduate students, with the invitation to apply as a tutor for the ‘Oxford and Cambridge Summer School,’ held by the charity OxFizz. The only problem? They were looking for volunteer tutors while making their students pay a massive tuition fee.
I am not intrinsically opposed to voluntary teaching. If the students or their parents/carers can’t afford it, sometimes volunteering is the only option (although The Brilliant Club is an amazing charity that pays its teachers). If the teacher has a solid income and the time to do this, that’s wonderful (although you won’t get rich teachers if you recruit graduate students). However, I am strongly opposed to this model of teaching OxFizz offered. Here’s why.
First of all, the students do pay, a lot. The following, absolutely cringeworthy, claim is proudly made on the OxFizz website:
“We provide paid, high-quality educational services to those who can afford it.”
The business model of OxFizz is as follows: the teacher donates their salary directly to a charity of their choice. I think this is an extremely strange way to do business, because the teacher is forced to donate everything they earn. Everything! I am disturbed by the assumption that graduate students are not only willing, but especially able to do this. Say, one week of full-time work at a summer school (40 hours) earns me £400. I am not in the financial position to donate £400 to charity. I am really sorry, but I am self-funded and I need to eat.
My most pressing objection to this particular charity, though, is the way it organises its summer school. I did some research, and landed on its website, http://www.oxfordandcambridgesummerschool.co.uk/. A summer school website just like any other – and there’s the big problem. The name ‘OxFizz’ is never mentioned on their website – only through emailing someone from OxFizz could I verify that this is indeed their summer school. Students checking out the website do not know that this is organized by a charity. The students who pay £3695 for a two-week summer school do not know that their teachers are not paid. Worst of all, the summer school website mentions that all profits go to charity. What should be the teacher’s salary is considered a ‘profit’. The designers of the school’s sleek website are apparently valued as an essential asset, the teachers are not.
(I’m surprised that apparently those who pay for the summer school don’t question the term ‘charity.’ Doesn’t anyone want to know which charity their money goes to? Not all charities do things I agree with. The summer school website doesn’t mention that the teachers themselves are free to choose their charity…)
I am saddened and revolted at the same time by the fact that quality teaching is apparently valued so little that the organisers of this summer school can get away with such a system. I find this system utterly unethical. Who benefits from this? Not the students, who do not know where their excessive tution fees go. Not the teachers, who must give away money they need for themselves and are not even acknowledged for their efforts. Is this how you want to collect money for charity?