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I'm applying for Lecturer positions in the UK (entry-level faculty, other academic systems might call the position "Assistant Professor").

I just got short-listed for one of the positions I have applied to, and am currently arranging the interview details (time, date, and expenses reimbursement). Going through their forms, I have noticed the following statement:

Candidates who are offered a contract of employment by University of XY but reject the offer lose their entitlement to claim reimbursement of interview expenses.

There is a similar question already. However, the candidate noticed such a clause only after buying the tickets, while I am trying to react to it beforehand.

This strikes me a bit odd. My questions are:

  • Is this a typical procedure for interviews for such positions? Is it a red flag? (Or at least, a yellow one?)
  • Is there a polite way to respond to this, indicating that I do not agree to this policy, but without sounding like I just want them to pay for a tourist visit?
  • These positions have a fixed salary range in the UK, however the call is made across two ranges (simultaneous call for Lecturers and Senior Lecturers), and after all it is still a range. What prevents the University from extending an insultingly low offer to a candidate they do not want to hire, hoping that the candidate would reject it and therefore forfeit their right to expenses reimbursement?
  • I was planning to evaluate this University further as a potential good match for me at the interview (see context below). Since I expect the expenses to be relatively small, should I just risk paying them on my own and go check the University out, even if I decide it is not a good fit?

Some context: This particular University was at the low end of the openings I am applying to. The research profiles of the staff did not look overly attractive, but the facilities were well equipped and I could find a couple of interesting people.

I had almost decided not to apply, when a colleague told me about a Research Centre associated to their University. I haven't originally noticed the Centre as it was not affiliated to the Department I am interested in, but a very different one. However, this Centre is very interesting for my current application domain, and could provide me with invaluable data to continue research in that direction (and bring that domain over to that University).

This Research Centre was the number one reason I decided to apply in the end. I've mentioned my definite interest in it in the application, figuring they would not call me if they were not interested in a collaboration with that Centre.

However, even after deciding to apply, the truth is, this particular University is at the low end of my list. I am serious in considering it as a potential place of employment, due to the presence of the Research Centre. However, with all the negative points still in place, I was going to form my final opinion about that University at the interview, which I think is a reasonable approach - both the candidate and the interviewers should look for a good fit.

When I was in a similar situation before, I rejected to go to the interview and have requested to not be considered further, specifically as I did not think the position was a good enough fit to risk the expenses. This was, however, for an industry interview, the travel expenses would have been much steeper, and they were not covering interview costs under any circumstance.

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    This answer and associated comment chain would imply that it's a fairly common practice in the UK. – Anyon Jun 3 at 15:54
  • This is another one : workplace.stackexchange.com/q/135972/75821 – Solar Mike Jun 3 at 16:05
  • @Anyon yes, that was the question I was originally reading. I'll edit that in. – penelope Jun 3 at 16:06
  • @SolarMike that one seems to be about a reverse situation - companies rescinding their offer or the position all together at the last minute. Here, I am just baffled why "wanting to evaluate a potential employer at the interview" is apparently treated as "bad faith" if my answer is "actually, I don't think it's as good of a fit as I imagined." – penelope Jun 3 at 16:10
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    @user2768 So, the guiding taught is that the Universities should protect themselves from the candidates taking the interview in bad faith, but the candidates are at the mercy of the Universities and their good faith. Because the balance of power in such situations is definitely always in favour of the candidate, and never in favour of an institution employing thousands of people? Amazing culture. – penelope Jun 4 at 13:38
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This is common in the UK. In general interview expenses are relatively low. Many people take a train in the morning to the university and return home that night, so there might not be any food or lodging costs and only a relatively inexpensive train ticket. For an international candidate arranging flights and trains may require a 3 day stay, as it did for me.

I simply told the department that I was very interested in the position, but was not in a financial position to be able to cover my own interview costs if I found the departmental culture to not be supportive. They gave me a guarantee to cover the costs in writing. If your expenses are more than a train ticket, there is no reason not to ask.

Be aware, the offer may be made the day of the interview and they may want a decision the next day. The UK system doesn't really let you get competing offers.

  • The offer can be made the same day because the teaching cycle can be about to start and preparation time is therefore short. – Solar Mike Jun 3 at 17:19
  • My expenses would probably be a train ticket (not overly cheap), an evening meal and accommodations for a single night (I am not very close to that Uni within the UK and couldn't arrange a comfortable interview time for same-day travel). Do you think it would be greedy to ask in that case? – penelope Jun 4 at 13:35
  • @penelope my opinion as a rude yank is probably not helpful, you would be better served by asking a Brit that you work with who you can tell the full story. That said, I find this aspect of the UK interview process insulting, so would probably advise asking and make them decide if they want to reject you because they are cheap. – StrongBad Jun 4 at 14:07
  • At least I'm not the only one who finds this insulting. Unfortunately, our only current Brit is a junior PhD student, and even most of the British (or otherwise) staff in my team actually was hired from outside of the UK. But, don't worry, I'm collecting the opinion of everybody who's willing to share, and I'll reach my decision based on more than just advice of random strangers on the internet :) – penelope Jun 4 at 15:09
  • +1 for the middle paragraph. There isn't enough evidence to know just how common it is to not pay expenses if the position is offered-but-rejected, but my institution (Guardian UK top 30) has no such clause in its reimbursement policy. – Phil Jun 4 at 16:24
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I'm surprised that you are surprised. If this isn't common practice, then I'm surprised. Universities don't have unlimited funds to work with and are interested in building a strong faculty, not gaming some reimbursement system.

The polite way to respond is to say yes or thanks, but no thanks. Your choice. Your risk. But it is their money, after all. I think it unlikely that they would agree to change the policy. I can't think of an incentive to change it unless they are very very interested in you.

The only thing preventing them from making you an insulting low offer in hopes you refuse it is that it would be stupid for them to do that. After all, it implies they really don't want you but would be stuck with you if you accept. I can't imagine that is a good thing for them to do.

If they are within your parameters for an acceptable job then you need to decide whether it is worth the risk of absorbing the cost in case you get a better offer. If it is outside your parameters there is no reason to bother them further. You can, of course, investigate them, if imperfectly, from a distance. But if you need to do that investigation first hand, you need to accept the fact that it will come at some cost, possibly.

You could, of course, interpret the existence of such a policy as an indication that this is fundamentally the wrong place for you to start your career. In that case, just say no. There is no reason to continue.

That is to say, if you find a policy at a potential employer that you find wrong or distasteful, you might suspect that there are other policies that you would find equally offensive or worse. This is especially true if you believe that the policies are in place to take advantage of you since you have little recourse. So, at a minimum, you need to be cautious.

If this place were high on your list for other reasons, you might (gulp) ignore the issue as you might if it is a trivial amount of money.

And, you can try to negotiate a better outcome as user StrongBad was able to do. But I remain skeptical.

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    If this isn't common practice, then I'm surprised. — I'm exactly the opposite. I would be shocked to hear of this practice happening at any university in the United States, and I would take that practice as a clear signal to avoid that university at any cost. — I can't think of an incentive to change it unless they are very very interested in you. — But if they aren't "very very interested in you", then why on earth would they interview you for a faculty position? (tl;dr: The US is not the UK.) – JeffE Jun 3 at 20:18
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    I agree with @JeffE for the US...at least in my field, it's even the norm for graduate students to have their expenses paid when interviewing. Every program that does so knows that those students are interviewing at other institutions, sometimes a dozen of them, so of course they are not covering those expenses expecting that everyone to actually enroll as a student. The whole point is that it's an investment in finding good candidates, if those good candidates choose to go elsewhere it was still worthwhile to have a chance to interview them. – Bryan Krause Jun 3 at 21:15
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    This answer surprised me. I've never heard of such a condition at a US university I hope no administrator reads this question and thinks it's a good idea. (Parenthetically, this is the first of @Buffy 's almost always excellent answers I've disagreed with.) – Ethan Bolker Jun 4 at 2:25
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    Some of the comments and objections seem to be US based, but the question wasn't. – Buffy Jun 4 at 10:15
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    @Buffy It's because of your surprise at the surprise. This seems to be a pretty UK-unique thing, anyone who is not from the UK should and will be surprised, and this would be a huge red flag elsewhere. The only reason it isn't is special to the UK. – Bryan Krause Jun 4 at 14:42

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