113. There are welcome signs that the number of CRS
will fall and their conditions will improve in the future but
the fact is that the stimulus for significant change has come
externally, in the form of an EU Directive. Sir Gareth Roberts'
comments that universities would not change unless they were forced
by the rule of law paints a depressing picture of their attitude
towards their employees. It reflects poorly on all concerned
that the problems caused by the increasing number of CRS were
identified many years ago but so few of them have been solved.
114. It is hard to identify a single culprit for
the continuing mistreatment of our research workforce, but top
of the list must be a management culture in some of our research-intensive
universities, which is callous and shortsighted. The universities
are underfunded, but that is not an excuse for poor management.
The Institute of Employment Studies regards the preponderance
of short term contracts as "unnecessary and counterproductive.
It is a product of history, a fragmentation of research capacity,
and a failure of management to understand that they can manage
in a different way".
Reviews, financial investment and changes in the law can only
achieve so much without tackling the fundamental underlying attitudes
115. Second must be the ostrich-like behaviour of
the Research Councils, who seem to see the research base as a
production line operated by automatons. Although it is universities
who employ the contract researchers, Research Councils must accept
that CRS funded under their grants are their responsibility too.
Although, some of the Research Councils have good policies
in some areas, these are not enough. We recommend that Research
Councils UK identify best practice among the Research Councils
and harmonise their policies towards contract research staff.
116. Government has for too long sat back and left
universities and the funding bodies to regulate themselves. The
current crisis in science and engineering research careers has
arisen in part because the Government has failed to recognise
that the way in which it funds research in universities impacts
on the employment of contract researchers. The situation demands
an urgent rebalancing of the dual support system.
117. We are concerned that the Roberts Review, while
making a valuable contribution in highlighting the problem of
short-term research contracts and making the case for more funding,
fails to contemplate radical change. We have been told too often
that something is not possible: that not all contract researchers
can aspire to permanent academic positions;
or that a research career track would not work.
Too many assumptions underlie claims such as these. We await
the higher education review, more in the hope than in the expectation
that it will provide some original and innovative thinking which
tackles the management of research in universities.
118. Sir Gareth said that his advice to any young
researcher was "You have got to position yourselves to be
lucky in this world".
We would like a world where good researchers were successful
on merit and less subject to an academic lottery.
218 Ev 73 Back
Ev 138 Back
HM Treasury, SET for success: The supply of people with science,
technology, engineering and mathematical skills. (Report of
Sir Gareth Roberts' Review), April 2002, para 5.18 Back
Q 161 Back