Select Committee on Science and Technology Eighth Report


1.The proportion of researchers working on fixed-term contracts is too high. The starting point for any policy should be to reduce this proportion. (paragraph 104).

2.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 (paragraph 113).

3.We would like a world where good researchers were successful on merit and less subject to an academic lottery (paragraph 118).

The Concordat and the Research Careers Initiative

4.The Concordat and the Research Careers Initiative have focused on managing the problem rather than solving it (paragraph 44).

5.It seems that some universities will do little positive to address the issue of CRS unless forced by law or financial penalty. Unless those failing to comply with the Research Careers Initiative are named and shamed, it will continue to lack the teeth it needs to make a real difference (paragraph 45).

6.Any new body set up to tackle the issue of research careers must include the contract researchers themselves. The group must not be divorced from the reality of their situation (paragraph 46).

7.Any new Concordat must build on the best aspects of the first but it must not be simply a funders' charter. Its signatories must come from all the key players, including government, unions, the funding councils and the researchers themselves, and its fine words must be backed up with a clear implementation strategy to make sure things really do change this time (paragraph 47).


8.Universities will have to make financial provision for redundancy payments and this must be taken into account by both public and private funders of research (paragraph 60).

9.Universities must not see Employment Regulations 2002 as an excuse to refuse to renew existing contracts or to award a researcher a new one so that the four­year limit is not reached (paragraph 62).

10. If the Model Statute has been an obstacle to reducing the number of CRS, it begs the question as to why universities have made no attempt to reform it before (paragraph 66).

11.We find it hard to take seriously universities' claims that they cannot afford to reduce their use of short-term contracts, if they have not even calculated how much it would cost (paragraph 79).

12.In the commercial world businesses have to make predictions about their future income and productivity, and plan accordingly. Universities reserve the right to look no further than the end of the current research grant and place the entire burden of risk onto researchers. CRS can be thankful that the Employment Regulations are forcing universities to act (paragraph 81).

13.We believe that the awarding of academic fellowships should be based on a commitment from the host institution, where possible, to provide permanent positions (paragraph 87).

The Government

14.Ultimately the responsibility for funding the researchers in universities lies with Government (paragraph 100).

15.We recommend that the Government monitor the effect of the revised Model Statute and consider the use of safeguards to prevent its abuse (paragraph 67).

16.The Spending Review and the Strategy for Science contain some commitments to positive action to address the problems of contract researchers. We will monitor their effectiveness with interest (paragraph 71).

17.The number of written submissions to the inquiry and the strong views held by contract researchers who appeared before us demonstrates that initiatives have failed to solve the problem. The announcements in Spending Review 2002, the new Employment Regulations, the JNCHES guidance and the prospect of a revised Model Statute all give us hope that a resolution to the issue of CRS is possible. Nevertheless, we feel that more positive action is needed (paragraph 72).

18.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 (paragraph 117).

19.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 (paragraph 116).

20.Research Council funding, regardless of the level of overheads it pays, is directed and gives universities little room to manouevre in the way it employs its staff. The anticipated higher education budget must provide more money for research and at least start to rebalance the dual support system (paragraph 101).

21.The salary increases for researchers announced in the Spending Review are welcome, but the Government must realise that unless it funds measures to give CRS a rewarding and secure career, a mere pay rise will not be enough stop Britain's best researchers turning their backs on science and engineering or on the UK (paragraph 102).


22.Contract researchers are taken for granted and badly treated but too many seem to embark on a career and hope for the best. They need to look ahead and evaluate their prospects. Ultimately, researchers must take responsibility for their own careers (paragraph 74).

23.While we have sympathy with academics who have a passion for their subject and simply want to do research, the truth is that they have a managerial responsibility to the researchers in their team. Too many, it seems, take the view that if they survived so can everyone else. Times have changed (paragraph 77).

24.We are amazed that so little attention has been given by universities to the disproportionately high level of women CRS relative to permanent academic staff (paragraph 88).

Research Councils and Funding Councils

25.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 (paragraph 115).

26.We welcome [the Athena Project and the Higher Education Funding Council for England's investigation into women in higher education] and recommend that they address the disproportionately high number of women researchers working on short-term contracts (paragraph 88).

27.We recommend that the Funding Councils and the Research Councils work together to establish the ethnic profile of contract researchers and to take action to tackle any bias or discrimination (paragraph 89).

28.We are encouraged that the Funding Councils are considering mechanisms to reward universities with good employment practice (paragraph 90).

29.The current review of higher education research assessment must ensure that whatever follows the Research Assessment Exercise does not disadvantage contract researchers (paragraph 91).

30.The Funding Councils should consider using the proportion of researchers on fixed-term contracts in a department as a basis for calculating the university block grant (paragraph 92).

31.We welcome the training grants for Research Council-funded CRS announced in the Spending Review but there is more that the Research Councils should be doing. It is not clear to us why the Research Councils cannot treat their grants as much as investments in people as in research. Their insistence on passing the buck to the universities is shameful (paragraph 95).

32.[The] idea of a training voucher system for postdocs has merit and should be pursued (paragraph 96).

33.To prevent contract researchers, particularly the more senior ones, from applying for Research Council grants is demeaning and stifles good ideas. If one Research Council can allow this then they all can. We recommend that all the Research Councils allow contract researchers to apply for their grants without delay (paragraph 97).

34.The continued excellence of the science base requires that we fund the best people available for the duration of a grant. We recommend that the Research Councils reassess their practices to ensure that their grants fund the best people available and not the cheapest (paragraph 98).


35.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 (paragraph 106).

36.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 (paragraph 108).

37.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 (paragraph 112).

38.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 (paragraph 114).

39.Reviews, financial investment and changes in the law can only achieve so much without tackling the fundamental underlying attitudes and behaviours (paragraph 114).

40.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 are managed (paragraph 103).

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 20 November 2002