On Wednesday March 12, 2014, ACOD UGent organized an information session for all of the teaching assistants (praktijkassistenten) of Ghent University. During this information session, explanations were given regarding the specific statute of university teaching assistants on the one hand, and UGent’s plans to develop its own regulations regarding the use of this personnel statute on the other. At the same time, ACOD’s standpoints regarding the content of this future internal regulation were also covered.
The current personnel statute of the university’s teaching assistants
The teaching assistant statute has many disadvantages for those personnel falling into this category.
Length of employment and job security
A teaching assistant position is a temporary statutory appointment. People can never obtain a permanent appointment as a teaching assistant. This has been decided via a decree of the Flemish Government. At the same time, the government has fixed the maximum term of appointment for teaching assistants at five years.
It is clear that the teaching assistant, as a permanently temporary position, has no job security after the expiration of his or her current appointment. If the faculty decides not to renew the teaching assistant appointment, then there is no juridical defense against this. Moreover, teaching assistants at that time have absolutely no right to a term of notice or severance pay, unlike employees with a permanent contract. People can be kicked out onto the street from one day to the next at the end of the term of appointment.
Even if an individual’s position seems relatively secure for the moment, for example because that person is carrying out important tasks within the program, the risk of non-renewal remains. When the department or faculty decides at a certain to time to go looking for personnel points, then the short, temporary appointments of teaching assistants, assistants, and doctoral-assistants make easy targets.
Teaching assistants are placed in the career development path of university assistants. This career path has only one scale, in which the individual concerned receives annual or biennial increases based on financial seniority . It is impossible to move to a different scale or achieve advancement in any other manner. In effect, this is simply traversing a single salary without any perspective.
PLEASE NOTE: The pension is and remains a very complex situation, in which almost any change to the individual careers of future retirees can have a serious effect on their final pension. Only the individual pension offices for RVP (employees), PDOS (public servants) and RSVZ (the self-employed) can determine the final pension, and only then at the time of retirement. On the following pages you will find some important aspects of assistants’ pension situation that will allow you to estimate the risks of your current situation.
What kind of pension is available?
Only statutory personnel with permanent appointments can receive a government pension (or "civil service pension"). Since teaching assistants only have a temporary statutory appointment, they are not entitled to a state pension for the years that they are employed in this position. Their time as teaching assistants count towards an employee pension, which is considerably less than that of a government pension.
The only exception to this rule is when a teaching assistant later receives a permanent appointment to another post somewhere. In that case, their years spent as a statutory temporarily appointed teaching assistant are included in the calculation of the pension that they will receive based on the permanent appointment in the other post. At that time, those years will count towards your pension at a career fraction of 1/55.
If, however, the teaching assistant position is not followed by a permanent position, then the years spent as a teaching assistant only count towards an employee pension!
What if you already have another appointment?
Some teaching assistants have full-time or part-time appointments elsewhere, e.g. in secondary education. Depending upon their individual situation, they may have – for example - taken a full or part time leave of absence in the post to which they were appointed in order to work at Ghent University as a teaching assistant. This often concerns a type of leave of absence for which the duration does not count towards the calculation of the pension for that post to which they are appointed.
If you are in such a situation, it is important that before the end of your career you make an attempt to either increase that extant appointment (if it is part-time) or withdraw (from a leave of absence) to a full-time appointment that fully qualifies for a government pension. If this occurs, then the entire period as a teaching assistant is taken into account in the calculation of the pension for the position to which you were appointed. The PDOS, after all, takes into account your career’s most recent appointment percentage that is eligible for a government pension.
Concrete examples to help clarify:
- Leave of absence schemes
You are appointed as a full-time teacher in secondary education. You have entered into a half-time leave of absence scheme within the context of ordinary provisions for personal reasons. This particular leave of absence scheme is not eligible for a government pension. Within this half-time leave of absence scheme, you receive a 50% appointment as a teaching assistant at Ghent University.
- Option A: If your permanent appointment remains reduced to 50% for the remainder of your career, then none of your employment as a teaching assistant counts towards the government pension deriving from your permanent appointment.
- Option B: If, prior to retirement, your permanent appointment returns to 100%, then the entire time spent as a teaching assistant counts towards the government pensions deriving from your permanent appointment. There is no minimum period for which your appointment must return to 100%. Even if this happens just one month prior to retirement, then this is sufficient to allow the term of your teaching assistantship to count towards the government pension.
- Option C: If, prior to retirement, your permanent appointment is raised to 80%, then only part of your employment as a teaching assistant counts towards the government pension deriving from your permanent appointment. It is about 30/50 of this employment, namely the difference between the 50% that you already had in your appointment, and the 80% that you ultimately ended your career with. The remaining 20% of your employment as a teaching assistant then falls under the pension scheme for employees.
- Part-time appointments
You are appointed for 50% as a teacher in secondary education. You also have a 50% appointment as a teaching assistant at Ghent University.
- Option A: If your permanent appointment is limited to 50% until the end of your career, then none of your employment as a teaching assistant counts towards the government pension deriving from your permanent appointment.
- Option B: If, before retirement, your part-time permanent appointment is supplemented or extended to 100%, then the entire term of your employment as a teaching assistant counts towards the your government pension deriving from your permanent appointment. There is no minimum period for which your appointment must be increased to 100%. Even if this happens just one month prior to retirement, then this is sufficient to allow the term of your teaching assistantship to count towards the government pension.
- Option C: If, before retirement, your part-time permanent appointment is supplemented or extended to 80%, then only part of your employment as a teaching assistant counts towards the government pension deriving from your permanent appointment. It is about 30/50 of this employment, namely the difference between the 50% that you already had in your appointment, and the 80% that you ultimately ended your career with. The remaining 20% of your employment as a teaching assistant then falls under the pension scheme for employees.
Many part-time teaching assistants, in addition to their teaching assistantship, have other employment, e.g. self-employed or permanently appointed teacher (part-time or under a leave of absence scheme) in secondary education.
With such simultaneous employment, each job is covered by a different pension (teaching assistants under the employee scheme, and the other job by either self-employed or civil schemes), and an individual accrues a pension in both systems.
The rules for accounting years in pension calculations differ for each of the three pension systems. Because of this, it is possible that some years are eligible for different pensions.
To date, the principle of career unity has meant that people have sometimes lost years in a particular system during their pension calculation, despite having paid contributions towards it. One example concerns those persons employed independently who have made contributions sufficient for a pension in the self-employed system. If, at the time of retirement, it appears that the total number of years employed under various pension systems exceeds the maximum of pension calculation, then their (less advantageous) years as an independent are subtracted first.
Meanwhile, the federal government has tabled a bill amending the principle of career unity. Therefore, it is possible that this problem will either disappear shortly, or have a smaller impact. Yet there remain some things that require further clarification regarding future calculation methods before this becomes conclusive.
Teaching assistants’ tasks
Originally, teaching assistantships were intended to allow persons employed outside the university to take on a university teaching post for a very small percentage. Within this limited teaching remit, could they communicate the experience they’d gained from their other jobs to students, mostly in the form of practical exercises. So, for example, a physiotherapist could oversee practical exercises among the students in Rehabilitation Sciences and Physiotherapy.
However, the teaching assistantship is currently used to fulfill other tasks, often at much higher employment rates, and sometimes even with a full-time assistant’s appointment. In this fashion, teaching assistants are performing extremely diverse functions, which qua content are often entirely administrative. The main reason for this is that these people are employed via successive temporary appointments, and after the expiry of such an appointment can throw them out on to the street – when, for example, the administration decides that it wants to redeploy personnel resources in another, new area. This is actually a misuse of the teaching assistantship. Using this position as a kind of refuge (‘opvangmandaat’) for doctoral students is another abuse of the teaching assistantship.
Where such assistants originally had only 10 or 20 percent in this – in any case bad – statute, we now have teaching assistantships with a much larger percentage. As a result, the adverse effects for those involved are much greater, and they are also much more dependent on the extension of their appointment in this precarious statute.
Ghent University’s plans
Under the impetus of the discussions held in recent years between the Flemish Government, institution authorities, and trade unions around the status of university teaching assistants, UGent has also scrutinized the "use" of its teaching assistants. Through informal channels, we have learned that regulations will be prepared containing the conditions under which teaching assistants will be appointed at Ghent University in the future.
Via its academic administrator, Koen Goethals, UGent announced its ideas on this matter in the information session organized for the teaching assistants on Tuesday, March 18th, 2013.
In broad strokes, these are UGent’s plans:
- The employment percentage of teaching assistants is to be limited. They are considering a maximum of 30%, but this could still be subject to slight changes. The idea is that this would concern "real" teaching assistants, that is to say, people who can communicate their practical experience from another job to students. It is clear that the bad statute will still have adverse consequences for these people as well.
- Alongside this, they still want to retain the possibility of giving certain teaching assistants a higher rate of employment. However, this would be of limited duration, with a projected maximum of 5 years. The idea is that this would concern temporary "projects". Again, the poor statute remains deleterious for those affected.
- Teaching assistantships with a high percentage of employment, and whose function is considered structurally necessary, should be converted into positions among the administrative and technical staff (ATP). This is by far the best arrangement.
What does the transition to an ATP statute entail?
How would the transition happen?
First and foremost, Ghent University has to decide that it will declare a vacant ATP position for a given teaching assistantship. The negotiations surrounding the regulations have yet to determine how this will be done. This can in no way result in an arbitrary situation in which one person can have the opportunity to move up to an ATP statute, while another may not.
Therefore, vacancies should be declared publicly, and anyone eligible to apply.
This means that the teaching assistant will, in effect, have to compete yet again for his or her own job when it becomes an ATP position!
Only full-time teaching assistants who have held their position for at least five years as of October 1, 2013, can be transferred to the ATP statute without the position first being declared vacant publically. Furthermore, prior to the upcoming elections, a decree must be voted on in the Flemish Parliament stating that this transition rule also applies to teaching assistants with an appointment of at least 70 per cent who have held their position for at least 5 years as of October 1, 2013. Any teaching assistants who do not meet the above conditions can only become an ATP member via a public vacancy!
As an ATP member, after a probationary period of six months, an individual receives a permanent appointment, and is therefore also entitled to a government pension. In accordance with what has been described above with regard to pensions, their years as a temporary teaching assistant are then taken into account during the calculation of their government pension.
ATP members have a career track in which an individual, after successful evaluations and four years, can proceed to the next salary scale within their own job class. UGent is considering scaling teaching assistants in function class A.
More on this and other career development opportunities can be found in UGent’s ATP regulations: https://www.ugent.be/intranet/nl/reglementen/werken/personeel/atp/atp_reglement.pdf (in Dutch)
During the information session of March 18, UGent confirmed that the teaching assistants who are transferred to the ATP statute will retain all their seniority.
During the scaling, a simulation would be made based upon their careers as teaching assistants, and in accordance with the same rules that apply to ATP members moving from the integration framework to that of the university. No one will receive a lower wage than that which they receive now.
What are the demands of ACOD with regard to the teaching assistants at UGent?
- The creation of an inventory of the current teaching assistants and a description of their functions
- The determination of what a teaching assistant may/may not be used for
- That temporary appointments as a teaching assistant be limited to a maximum of 30%, and then for a maximum term of 5 years in total
- That as many of the teaching assistants as possible are transferred to the ATP statute
- That extant temporary appointments are dealt with within a transitional phase
ACOD can help ...
If you have further questions regarding teaching assistants’ statue, you can always e-mail them to ACOD@UGent.be
However, to obtain help or advice concerning your particular situation, we ask that you become a member of ACOD. This can be done via our website