THE WAY FORWARD
103. To resolve the problem of huge numbers of
research staff working on short contracts, it is clear to us that
university management must change radically, not just at the top
level but in the way individual departments and research teams
104. Few of the inquiry's submissions to the inquiry
included a judgement on what would be the right proportion of
researchers on short-term contracts, although most considered
it to be too high. The Systematics Society believes that no more
than half of researchers should be on fixed-term contracts (and
preferable only 25%).
The Royal Geographic Society argues that only 25-30% of researchers
should be CRS
while Save British Science puts the figure at 30% on the basis
that when the figure was this in the past no problems were reported.
The AUT insists that all researchers should be on permanent contracts
with only a few exceptions.
Jonathan Bates, from Swindon, argues that the focus should not
be on the proportion of CRS but on getting the right level of
researcher turnover to maintain a healthy research community.
Others suggest that it is the numbers of senior CRS that is the
Dr Helen Walker, now on an open-ended contract at the Rutherford
Appleton Laboratory after 15 years as a contract researcher, argues
that it depends on the research environment and that while universities
may need a higher percentage of CRS, research laboratories need
more permanent staff. The proportion of researchers working
on fixed-term contracts is too high. The starting point for any
policy should be to reduce this proportion.
105. The larger research groups should engage
in better financial planning to ensure continuity of their research
programmes and to avoid the use of excessive use of short-term
contracts. They should be supported in this by the Funding Councils
and the Research Councils.
106. The new Employment Regulations and the JNCHES
agreement should decrease the numbers of researchers on fixed-term
contracts but this must not be seen as the only criterion for
success. It is clear to us that a research career needs to provide
a coherent path from PhD to professorship that does not involve
the quantum leap from lowly ranked and insecure contract research
to the cosy blanket of academic permanence. We have been told
how the research base needs to be dynamic, bringing in new blood
and new ideas. Dr Alan Williams of the AUT argues that if this
is the case, it is true for all tiers in the research hierarchy,
including senior academics on permanent contracts.
Cambridge postdocs argue for a restructuring of all academic employment
with an element of contract funding in all academics' salaries.
We must end the damaging distinction between permanently employed
academics and CRS. We must aim for security for all higher education
staff even if this means that none is entitled to a job for life.
107. We were astonished to hear Baroness Warwick
say "I do not think anybody believes that every contract
research member of staff either wants to or should become a permanent
member of staff".
Not every CRS wants to be employed permanently in one institution
but this is not the same as not wanting to be employed on an open-ended
contract. The CRS who do move on would still like the assurance
of an open-ended contract so that they can plan ahead and move
on at a time that suits their career - and their family if they
have one - and not when their contract is up.
108. A radical argument, although not one with which
we are sympathetic, is that there is no place in academia for
open-ended contracts. It maintains that the problem for CRS is
not the fact that their contract is fixed term but that there
are others who are on open-ended contracts. Some believe that
a better alternative would be 5-10 year rolling contracts for
all researchers and teachers in HEIs or at least a blurring of
the distinction between CRS and permanently employed academics.
This inquiry is focused on the problems created by huge numbers
of contract researchers but it is clear to us that a resolution
must embrace all academic staff employed in higher education.
109. The Association of Research Centres in the Social
Sciences advocates the creation of autonomous research centres
in which better management could flourish.
The Institute of Employment Studies makes a similar point. It
argues that the use of short-term research contracts can be reduced
"if research is concentrated in centres which have sufficient
critical mass to support scientific endeavour, and which can invest
inappropriate facilities and staff development".
This has its attractions but we believe - and we have made clear
before - that university teaching benefits from a close association
Any reorganisation along these lines would need to recognise this.
110. Colin Bryson argues that the way forward is
to break the direct link between the research grant and the employment
of the researchers.
A research group would operate as a unit, funded by multiple grants.
This would allow more flexibility in labour division and, should
the grant income decline, retention would be based on an individual's
ability rather than which individual's contract had come to an
Grants are usually restricted to a particular project for which
they are awarded and look to get results from it. Funders would
therefore probably object to their money being diverted into other
projects but could be asked to consider this if the second project
is closely related.
111. Another option would be to decouple researchers
and research group leaders. Researchers could provide research
services for different projects. A department could charge the
services provided by such people to a project as an overhead,
as used to be the case when HEIs had permanent technical staff.
112. We have received ideas on how to remodel
the management of research in our universities. We now need a
Government that will listen to them and is bold enough to act.
203 Memorandum from the Systematics Association [not
Ev 135 Back
Ev 149 Back
Ev 40 Back
Ev 52 Back
Memorandum from Roger Flower [not printed] Back
Q 96 Back
Ev 108 Back
Q 130 Back
Ev 107, 94 Back
Ev 32 Back
Ev 73 Back
Second Report of Science and Technology Committee, Session 2001-02,
The Research Assessment Exercise, HC 507, para 51 Back
Ev 55 Back
Ev 113 Back