While I am not an expert on the legal subject, I understand it is legal to work without a contract in the UK (although not very advisable as it is harder to defend your right).

My University was looking for a PhD student to cover a class for which they were missing a teacher. I am a 3rd year PhD student, and the syllabus of the class matched my expertise perfectly. As the slides already exist, it wouldn't take me much time per week, and the proposed salary was very attractive.

The University is always late every year with the TA contract, so I didn't mind much not receiving the contract in the first week of teaching. However, when I asked the person that made me the offer when I would receive it, they told me that I will not receive an offer/contract, and that it was never done for people in my situation.

My first reaction was to believe I was scammed, or the like. However, I assume that if that was the case, I would have (hopefully) heard about such malpractice in the past. I believe the University would uphold their promise to pay me at the end, but it does make me uncomfortable that I would have no "written agreement".

Does anyone have such experience in a UK (specifically Scotland) university? Have you heard or seen it before?

Note: I am not asking a legal opinion (as this is not the correct SE website) but rather, has it been done, and are University usually behaving correctly about this kind of thing if it is indeed common.


  • The position is paid, with a "one-off lump sum" given at the end. Not based on hours done
  • This is not a TA position. This is a proper teaching position.
  • Is the position compensated? I assume there are laws covering work for pay.
    – Buffy
    Sep 15, 2023 at 19:07
  • It is. There is a "one-off lump sum" given at the end. Not based on hours done
    – JackRed
    Sep 15, 2023 at 19:08

2 Answers 2


I believe it to be completely standard at UK universities that TAs don't have a signed paper contract. There should be some small level of interaction with HR - they have to check your right to work in the UK, and you need to be put on payroll, etc. This not happening would indeed be a cause for concern. Otherwise, the important part is that it is clear what you are supposed to do, and what you are supposed to get paid. This suffices for you to have a work contract, it doesn't have to be a piece of paper.

Other details are probably clarified in university regulations anyway, rather than in individual contracts.

If you are concerned that the university (or some of its representatives) might be taking advantage of you, get in touch with your local UCU (https://www.ucu.org.uk/) representative. Their support is going to be way more useful than a signed piece of paper.

  • 1
    I always had a "contract" for my TA activities. Rather called a "letter of engagement" which need to be signed, with the hours requirements and the work to do, the salary and the supervisor associated with it. No activities can be done without one
    – JackRed
    Sep 15, 2023 at 20:04
  • 1
    Thanks for the insight on the rest.
    – JackRed
    Sep 15, 2023 at 20:05

I agree with Arno above. At my PhD institution and my posdoc institution, even those who deliver entire series of lectures don't get a contract if they already have a position in the university (e.g. graduate student, postdoc, lecturer), unless it's considered a new 'position' or very much a longer term commitment (e.g. 6 months +). I think (not a lawyer) that they make a distinction between ad hoc engagements of people who are already employed or tied to the university in activities that are beyond their usual duties/responsibilities and actual specific employment for that activity. Sometimes, they do offer zero-hours contracts instead for ongoing teaching by graduate students though.

I haven't heard of anyone not getting paid because they didn't have a contract. (You or the department head will have to fill in a form to claim payment though - just find out who needs to do it. And HR/Finance office at various departments can take an age to actually process things, but that is a slightly different issue.)

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