Select Committee on Science and Technology Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Dr Clare Goodess, Climatic Research Unit, University of East Anglia, following the Evidence Session of 3 July 2002

  I would like to take this opportunity to make a few further points relating to some of the evidence we heard on Wednesday.

  On the question of who is to blame, I think that a large part must rest with the poor management abilities of universities. The Climatic Research Unit has been winning money for contract research since its foundation in 1972. I have worked there continuously since 1982 (as a temporary employee for over 19 of these years) so clearly there is continuity of research income. The Unit currently brings in an average of £750,000 contract research money a year, the School of Environmental Sciences about £5 million. Pooling this money should allow greater security to be offered than at present. Currently four members of CRU staff have permanent contracts, three (including myself), indefinite contracts, with another nine on fixed-term contracts. I don't see why we shouldn't be able to offer all staff indefinite or permanent contracts.

  Some of the poor management is because universities seem adverse to taking any kind of risk. UEA, for example, seems to overestimate the risks of research staff failing to bring in money to cover their salary and certainly in the past has expected unrealistically large sums of money to be set aside to underwrite permanent/indefinite contracts (to cover redundancy payments). Universities are also very poor at providing their staff with management training (or indeed any kind of training). In a few cases, I think that academic staff do deliberately use fixed-term contracts in order to exert control over contract research staff. For example, somebody came up and spoke to me on the bus to UEA on Wednesday morning, knowing that I was giving evidence later that day. Their employment contract has just been renewed for a year. However, the research grant from which they are being paid has been renewed for five years! I do not think there is any excuse for this kind of treatment.

  The Climatic Research Unit is facing increasing recruitment problems. For example, we advertised two positions earlier this year to work on European Union projects. The contracts were for 18 months and two years, and we were offering a salary up to £27,000. The majority of the approximately 50 applicants were from overseas (principally India and China), with very few UK applicants. None of the UK applicants were good enough to get on to the shortlist. In the end, we appointed people from Australia and Sweden.

  I think some people at UEA have recognised the problems and realise that something needs to be done. For example, Jennifer Kahiel from Human Resources is supportive to individual researchers and to the ResNet network of women researchers. However, UEA appears much better on paper than in reality. It does have a code of practice based on the Concordat (I was the only contract researcher on the working party that produced it), but it is very weak and has not been implemented at the vital School level. Jan Anderson conducted a survey of research staff in 2000 (funded by Athena via ResNet) and found that 42 per cent of respondents had not heard of the code of practice, 62 per cent had not heard of the Concordat and 67 per cent had not heard of the RCI.

  I would like to finish with some comments about the Roberts Report recommendations. I have to say that I consider the three proposed trajectories to be inequitable and unworkable. I see myself very much as part of a research team, and cannot imagine how such a team would work with people doing the same work employed on these three different tiers, let alone how you would allocate people to each trajectory (particularly given our current recruitment problems). However, I do agree with the need for ongoing training and staff development.

  The Research Associate trajectory has the advantage of a permanent position, but Sir Gareth Roberts description does not match with the reality of what senior contract researchers do. In addition to carrying out the scientific work on projects, together with project co-ordination and management, I spend time developing and writing research proposals (which is increasingly time consuming), supervise PhD and MSc students, do some MSc teaching, am editor of a scientific journal, review manuscripts and research proposals for other groups, promote the Unit by preparing material for the web site, give general talks on climate change/the work of the Unit, etc, etc. Thus I do very many of the things that an "academic" does, although spending considerably less time on teaching. I certainly do not see myself as a failed academic ("someone who is not really up to it" in Sir Gareth's words) and consider that I have far more to offer than the support role described in the Roberts Report.

  If you would like to talk about any of these issues further, you are always very welcome to visit the Climatic Research Unit. Perhaps you might also be interested in talking to a ResNet lunchtime session (ResNet is the highly successful network for women contract research in the UEA science schools and Norwich Research Park.

  Finally, I am looking forward to seeing the report of the committee and hope that it will be taken as seriously as it deserves by Diana Warwick and the rest of Universities UK.

Clare Goodess

6 October 2002

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