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University of Sussex

Case Study
Review of Employment of Doctoral Tutors

Halpin partnered with the University of Sussex in December 2022 to complete a review of the employment practices relating to Doctoral Tutors – PhD students engaged in supporting teaching, alongside completing their research projects. The aim of the review was to understand the policies and processes in place, with a view to harmonising areas of divergence and improving the overall experience for Doctoral Tutors at the University. The review considered several factors of the Doctoral Tutor experience, including remuneration, terms and conditions, hiring, onboarding, allocation and redeployment, and career development.

The University of Sussex had a foundation of processes and positions agreed with their trade unions; however, there had been a sustained period of both internal and external challenges since the introduction of this foundation, including changes in student numbers, alterations to courses offered, and the COVID-19 pandemic. Following these challenges, there were perceptions that practice at the University had drifted from the agreed position. It was in this context that Halpin was engaged to consider the original agreement, review contemporary practice, and offer recommendations to ensure positive and supportive experiences for Doctoral Tutors – and, by extension, the students learning at the University.

As part of our review, we undertook primary and secondary research, with each element complementing the wider consultation process. Specific elements included:

  • consultation with relevant academic and professional services staff and Doctoral Tutors through small group interviews
  • review of relevant documentation, including statements of terms and conditions, departmental guidance, and the original agreement
  • benchmarking research, involving consultation with other higher education institutions, and desk research of identified comparator practices.

Our findings were presented to the project steering group in February 2023.


  • Enhanced understanding of institutional practices
  • Sector-based, relevant benchmarking for consideration
  • Clear recommendations on practice development relating to the employment of Doctoral Tutors
  • Additional recommendations on the oversight and governance of Doctoral Tutors institutionally
  • Implementation plan, including an action plan for our recommendations and suggestions