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


Memorandum submitted by the National Association of Teachers of Further and Higher Education (NATFHE)

  NATFHE represents 69,000 lecturers in further and higher education (post 1992 sector), many of whom are employed on fixed-term contracts. Relatively few of our 19,000 members in higher education are employed as contract researchers, we estimate that approximately 3,000 staff in the post 1992 university sector are employed in this capacity. Many lecturers in the post 1992 sector support their teaching with significant research, a large number do this on a fixed term contract basis. In responding to this Select Committee enquiry we wish to address the questions posed as follows.


  NATFHE believes that continued use of fixed term and hourly paid contracts of employment in higher education does matter in that casualisation compromises quality and restricts career development for thousands of researchers and academics in Higher Education. The Bett Report[24] noted that higher education sector employed proportionately more staff on fixed term contracts of employment than most other sectors. In fact only the catering industry employs more (45 per cent) than higher education (44 per cent). The extent of casualisation within higher education is not at issue, what should be urgently addressed are the effects of casualisation on quality research and teaching and also the detrimental effect on academic and research careers.

  The Bett report[25] noted the effects of fixed term appointments on quality in terms of both teaching and research. Staff at the end of a fixed term contract, may focus on securing employment elsewhere at the end of the contractual period. Bett suggested that this posed a risk in terms of quality. NATFHE commissioned research into the link between casual forms of employment in higher education and the quality of teaching and research[26], which suggested that the continued use of fixed term contracts could lead to a diminution in quality. It was suggested that this risk was most acute in subject areas such as science. The conditions of employment for the ever-increasing number of contract researchers was found to exert a negative influence on the quality of research.

  The position of fixed term contract staff (as well as academic staff) in the UK will be affected by the way in which the government has chosen to transpose the EC Directive on Fixed Term Work (1999/70/EC) due to become law in the UK in October 2002.

  NATFHE believes that by transposing the legislation solely according to the needs and wishes of employers, the government has failed to take the opportunity to reduce the extent of casualisation within higher education and the UK economy.

  Unlike some other European states the UK government has chosen to transpose the Directive to allow employers to retain the ability to employ unlimited numbers of employees on fixed term contracts. NATFHE believes that the Directive should be transposed in such a way as to limit the number of fixed term contracts any employer can use throughout the year. The UK Regulations will allow an employer to continue to employ staff on fixed term contracts for at least four years or longer, provided the use of such a contract can be objectively justified.

  The definition of objective justification contained within the Regulations is minimal, to the extent that the protection offered to fix term employees (against the successive use of fixed term contracts) will be determined by the courts as the legislation leaves many questions unanswered. Nonetheless we have been able to negotiate improved, though still imperfect, criteria on objective justification with the higher education employers (see below).

  NATFHE believes that there should be a limit on the number of fixed term contracts an employer can use in any given year. The maximum duration of a fixed term contract should be two years rather than four years. NATFHE believes an employee in post for over two years should be provided with a permanent contract of employment. Objective justification should not be used as an all-embracing justification for continuing the practice of casualisation.

  Researchers will be especially vulnerable to an employer's justification for continued use of fixed term contracts where the viability of long term research funding is uncertain. The manner in which the UK government has transposed the Directive will limit the intended scope of employment protection. Staff in higher education will over time, benefit from the Regulations, however many may have to wait for four years before the Regulations can be tested.

  Attempts have been made by both employers and trade unions within higher education to address the issue of casualisation, both parties recognise the need to avoid lengthy and expensive litigation. In 2000 the higher education trade unions (apart from AUT) and the UCEA concluded agreement on the "Fixed Term and casual employment in HE—a guide to good practice[27]. This guidance was intended to build upon the Concordat and the Research Careers Initiative and contained guidance for institutions on the management of fixed term staff.

  The forthcoming Fixed Term Work Regulations (and consequential amendments to the part Time Workers Regulations) are currently being addressed by the new Joint Council for Higher Education Staff (JNCHES). Higher education trade unions and employers have agreed (subject to final ratification in July 2002) on new guidance on fixed term and casual employment for the sector, which incorporates changes to the relevant legislation due to take effect from October 2002. The guidance stresses the need for careful management of fixed term staff, including contract researchers stressing that staff on these contracts should be given:

    —  The same opportunity as other staff to use services to assist better performance, such as staff development, training, appraisal, careers advice for research staff.

    —  Similar terms and conditions of employment to those in comparable jobs with indefinite employment in the institution unless the difference can be justified, in accordance with the legislation, for necessary and appropriate objective reasons.

    —  Information on, and the opportunity to apply for, more secure positions.

    —  A regular review to consider, as appropriate, indefinite employment on full-time, fractional or hourly-paid contracts.

  The guidance also recommends the following criteria and examples for the justification of continued or successive use of fixed term contracts after 4 years within higher education institutions:

    —  The post requires specialist expertise or recent experience not already available within the institution in the short term.

    —  To cover staff absence as appropriate (eg parental and adoptive leave, long-term sickness, sabbatical leave or secondment).

    —  The contract is to provide a secondment or career development opportunity.

    —  Input from specialist practitioners.

    —  Where the student or other business demand can be clearly demonstrated as particularly uncertain.

    —  Where there is no reasonably foreseeable prospect of short-term funding being renewed nor other external or internal funding being available or becoming available. Where the short-term funding has already been renewed, continuing use of the fixed-term contract would need to be justified by objective reasons.

  As part of their day-to-day management, institutions will be recommended to ensure that fixed-term and casual employees are given:

    —  A statement of their terms and conditions of employment, in accordance with statutory requirements.

    —  Information on, and the opportunity to apply for, vacancies in the same way as other staff.

    —  Appropriate opportunities to enhance skills and career development.

    —  A periodic review to consider whether indefinite employment is appropriate.

    —  On request, a written statement within 21 days explaining (a) any differences in their employment arrangements from those of comparable permanent employees taking into account the overall remuneration package or (b) after 4 years continuous service, whether the contract is indefinite or the objective reasons for continuing the fixed-term employment.

  The forthcoming Employment Bill also proposes to remove the use of redundancy waiver clauses from 1 October 2002. In order to anticipate this change the JNCHES guidance will also recommend that adequate and proper procedures should be in place for dealing with the risk of terminating a fixed-term contract including the following components:

    —   Up to four months before expiry of the contract, all the alternative options should be considered eg renewal, redeployment.

    —  Up to three months before the expiry date, consultation should take place with the post-holder on the prospects for alternative options, taking account of the post-holder's aspirations.

    —  The post-holder should be given information about other positions in the institution.

    —  Where the expiry of the contract is a redundancy, consultation should take place with the recognised union(s) in accordance with statutory requirements, further consultation should take place with the recognised union(s) and the post-holder as required.

  Implementation of this guidance by higher education institutions should result in improved management of fixed term contract staff, comparable pay and conditions for fixed term and permanent staff with more fixed term staff converting to permanent status over the medium to long term. However the government's insistence on imposing a four year waiting period before the continued use of a fixed term contract (which can and will can be challenged) will result in many staff continuing to face the insecurity and uncertainty of casual employment in higher education for far longer than is necessary or justifiable. If the UK Regulations had not stipulated a waiting period of four years, a lesser period could have been negotiated.

  In relation to contract research staff the draft JNCHES guidance states that[28]

    "Contract research staff are a distinctive group of employees in HE, with a high proportion employed on fixed-term contracts. It is recognised that this has occurred in the past because of the short-term funding of these posts. However, it is also recognised that the Fixed-Term Employee Regulations will require in a major overhaul of the way they are employed in the future, resulting in a significant transfer to and use of indefinite contracts. The ending of short-term funding will continue to raise the possibility of termination of these indefinite contracts. Where the research can be continued, all other appropriate sources of funding, both internal and external, need to be considered to replace the ending of the specific funding stream. Where this is not available, redeployment or other measures should be considered in order to render the redundancy procedures fair in accordance with the legislation. Institutions are recommended to have appropriate termination procedures in place and the resources to administer them, particularly since the reason for the termination is likely to be redundancy. These will include individual and collective consultation, redeployment and appropriate contractual notice.

    Progress has already been made in identifying, encouraging and disseminating best practice in all aspects of career management for contract research staff. This arises from the Concordat agreed between HE institutions, the Research Councils, the British Academy and the Royal Society and the subsequent establishment of the Research Careers Initiative".

  NATFHE believes that the prospects for reducing the use of fixed term contracts in higher education are favourable. However, the precarious nature of research funding and the reluctance of employers to commit to and invest in their research staff indicate that more needs to be done by government to encourage higher education employers to end the culture of casualisation prevalent within higher education.

2.  What are the implications for researchers and their careers?

  The Roberts' Review[29] highlighted the damaging effect of continued use of fixed term contracts of employment and the lack of a viable career structure for most contract researchers. The preponderance of fixed term contracts was also found to act as a "major barrier to the recruitment and development of postdoctoral researchers"[30].

  The review found that contract researchers represented 28 per cent of full time academic staff, however this proportion rose within SET (Science, Engineering and Technology) subjects to 42 per cent. Whilst NATFHE recognises the greater proportion of contract researchers employed within SET subjects on a casual basis, we also believe that the overall number of academic staff employed on a casual basis throughout the sector is unacceptably high.

  HESA statistics show that during 1999-2000 higher education institutions employed 31,450 full time staff designated as researchers[31]. No reliable figures on the number of part time research staff are currently available[32]. The distribution of contract researchers amongst the nine HESA cost centres (including SET subjects) shows that the majority (34 per cent) were employed in the subject areas of biology, physics and mathematics (see charts 1 and 2 below). A significant proportion (30 per cent) were employed in the subject areas of medicine, dentistry and health studies, whilst engineering accounted for 18 per cent of all full time researchers within the higher education sector. The SET subjects account for some 16,420 (53 per cent) of all full time researchers. If recruitment and retention difficulties are affecting SET subject areas, it is submitted that any such difficulties are not exerting a negative influence on recruitment and retention over and above the extent to which all subject areas experience such difficulties. Engineering has 5,540 (18 per cent) of the total number of full time research staff and 15,610 (14 per cent) of all academic and research staff. Biology, Physical Sciences and Mathematics employ 10,880 (35 per cent) of the total number of full time research staff in the sector and employ 24,090 (21 per cent) of all academic and research staff. Both Engineering and Bioscience are relatively well provided with contract researchers

  This is even true when comparing the number of researchers as a proportion of the total academic establishment. Administration, Business and Social Science employ only 2,560 (8 per cent) of the total number of researchers, yet within this subject area 19,870 (18 per cent) of the total number of academic and research staff are employed.

  The Roberts' Review notes that other subject areas are affected by the same recruitment and retention difficulties. SET subjects already employ a greater proportion of research staff than do other larger subject areas.

  NATFHE does not believe that a case has been made for SET subjects to receive differential treatment. We believe that the Select Committee should take into account other policy priorities, particularly in the area of health and social policy. Delivering the NHS Plan will involve a significant increase in research and development as well as an increase in teaching resources. The government has set a challenging target of widening participation in higher education, to ensure that by 2010, 50 per cent of those under 30 will have had some experience of higher education. NATFHE acknowledges the need to increase resources and rewards for researchers in SET subjects, however we would also argue that the same additional resources should be put into other subject areas.

  The Roberts' Review[33] also highlights the relative low salaries of contract researchers. We would point out that in the post 1992-university sector the Researcher A pay scale commences at £11,562 (less than the Local Government pay rate for a school meals supervisor). Clearly if the higher education sector is to attract the best PhD graduates concerted action must be taken to improve salary levels for contract researchers.

  The Bett Report made a series of recommendations on the need to increase the minimum levels of academic salaries including the recommendation for a salary of £20,000 for entry grade research posts in pre and post 1992 Institutions. The academic trade unions (AUT, NATFHE and EIS) have for the first time submitted a joint pay claim for 2002-03 incorporating the Bett recommendations on minimum salaries for research and academic staff.

  It is worth noting that since 1998 no progress has been made towards achieving Bett's recommendations on pay levels for higher education as a whole. In 2001-02, lecturers' pay in the post-1992 institutions, outside Scotland, is £19,191-£26,163, while lecturers' pay in the pre-1992 institutions is £20,470-£24,435 compared with the Bett comparator of junior police inspectors who now earn between £33,849-£36,834.

  The Bett comparator of an experienced teacher (with threshold payments) now earns between £25,959 and £30,018 whilst the pay of Lecturers remains below the minimum levels suggested by Bett (which were to be achieved by 2002).

  Salaries for Senior Lecturers in post-1992 institutions and Lecturer B's in pre-1992 institutions in 2002 should, according to Bett, commence at £28,000. Yet in February 2002 Senior Lecturers in post-1992 universities outside Scotland will still be paid only £25,793 on appointment and in March 2002 the Lecturer B scale will start at £25,455.

  Bett compared Senior Lecturers in the post-1992 institutions who now earn between £24,417 and £32,265 with larger Inspector roles. The salary for Chief Inspector roles in 2000 ranged from £37,830 to £40,878 substantially more than the pay of senior lecturers. Bett also compared Senior Lecturers' salaries to those of senior teachers who, with advanced teaching skills, can now be placed on a salary scale anywhere between £27,939 and £44,571. Clearly it is not just researchers who require urgent action to increase pay, the rewards available to all academic and research staff in the UK are inadequate and will result in significant recruitment and retention difficulties in the foreseeable future. Raising research salaries alone will not induce good postgraduates to contemplate an academic career, going beyond a brief period of research.

  In 2001 NATFHE published international comparisons of average academic salary spending power for 1998 (quoted in the Roberts' Review).

Average annual salary
spending power 1998
United States
United Kingdom
Czech Republic

  This table shows the purchasing power of average academic pay relative to that of the UK. All figures for this table have been derived from official OECD statistics, either those published in "Education At A Glance 2001" or in the datasets which underlie the tables and which are available from NATFHE believes that comparisons between relative academic and research salaries both within the UK and also on an international basis demonstrate the need to increase investment in higher education academic and research staff through a significant increase in general levels of pay.

  The Roberts' Review[34] comments on the disparity between academic pay levels and the pay of comparable groups in the rest of the UK economy. We would agree with the conclusions of the Review that the pay of researchers should be increased to the level suggested by Bett. However, NATFHE can find no firm evidence within the review to substantiate the assertion that academics in SET subjects are affected to a greater extent than academics in other subject areas.

  We would specifically caution against distorting the higher education pay system to the detriment of staff within non-SET subjects. The higher education pay system has to take into account many pressures and external tensions, differential salary payments for staff within SET subjects may increase the drift away from higher education for groups of academics and researchers in health and education. Furthermore the highly likely forthcoming establishment of a Research Council for Arts and Humanities should be considered and care should be taken not to diminish the proportion of eligible staff who would be attracted to posts within non-SET subject areas. NATFHE recommends that action is taken to improve the pay and conditions for all research and academic staff, this would have the net effect of attracting more staff into higher education. The approach suggested by the Roberts' Review could result in incentive lead recruitment to SET subjects at the expense of non-SET areas crucial to higher education. The objective must be to increase the pool of talent available to institutions rather than to allow only SET subjects to improve recruitment and retention from an all too small pool of staff.

3.  Is there evidence that the present situation causes good researchers to leave?

  The recruitment and retention difficulties experienced by higher education institutions have been subject to investigation and analysis by the Bett Committee and also through more recent IRS research (commissioned by HEFCE, SCOP, UCEA and UUK[35]). The recruitment and retention survey carried out by the Bett Committee[36] found that institutions experienced recruitment and retention difficulties in many different subject areas including; business subjects, engineering, computing and information technology, mathematics and nursing and midwifery. Retention problems were identified amongst researchers, fixed term contract staff and young staff. Many of the recruitment and retention problems were directly attributable to pay outside the higher education sector. This problem was particularly acute in subject areas such as computing, accountancy, law, engineering, management and health studies. The more recent IRS research found that 18 per cent of institutions were experiencing difficulties in recruiting academic staff in 2001, whereas only 6 per cent experienced such difficulties in 1998. The number of institutions reporting difficulties in retaining staff rose from 2 per cent in 1998 to 8 per cent in 2001[37] .

  The subjects most frequently cited as causing recruitment difficulties were:

    —   Computing/information technology/information systems.

    —  Business related subjects—management, accountancy, finance, economics and law.

    —  Engineering —electrical, mechanical and civil engineering.

    —  Health service related subjects—nursing, midwifery, professions allied to medicine.

    —  Science —biological, chemistry and physics.

    —  Education.

  Retention difficulties were most acute for lecturers rather than for researchers with most institutions reporting difficulties in recruiting lecturers[38]. The underlying reasons for retention problems were attributed in no small part to academic pay levels. Two thirds of respondents cited pay as a major factor underlying recruitment and retention problems in the sector. The academic staff most likely to leave for work in the private sector were those employed in IT, computing, law and accountancy. However, staff in health studies and education were also likely to leave post, attracted by the higher pay levels now available within the NHS or within the state school system.

  In summary NATFHE believes that the present situation may compel some research staff to consider leaving or not entering higher education. The reasons for this relate to the preponderance of fixed term contracts and detrimental effects of casualisation, low starting salaries and subsequent pay levels which compare unfavourably with comparable occupations within the rest of the UK economy. However, institutions report recruitment and retention problems in many subject areas. We do not believe that a valid case has been made to justify targeting researchers and academics in SET subjects to the detriment of other subject areas. Whilst the government is committed to increasing the capacity for quality scientific research and development in the UK, due care should be taken to ensure that any additional measures do further exacerbate the problems of low relative pay levels and poor recruitment and retention throughout the higher education system. We suggest that many (non SET) subjects could make an identical case for pay premiums based on factors relevant to the appropriate discipline. Furthermore, pay throughout the whole of a career is the determining factor, not just pay for an initial period as a researcher.

4.  What would be the right balance between contract and permanent research staff?

  NATFHE believes that the vast majority of research and academic staff should be employed on a permanent basis. The forthcoming Fixed Term Work Regulations and the JNCHES agreement on casualisation will exert a positive effect on the issue of casualisation. We anticipate a significant reduction in the number of fixed term contract staff over the short to medium term. The proposed career pathways for research staff (trajectories as described in the Roberts' Review) will only be viable if employers invest in research staff over a considerable period of time. This will require the provision of permanent contracts of employment. Whilst fixed term contract staff are treated as a disposable resource by so many higher education employers, there can never be an acceptable balance of fixed term and permanent staff. NATFHE believes that the higher education sector has no option other than to drastically reduce the number of fixed term researchers and fixed term academic staff.

5.  Has the Concordat and the Research Careers Initiative made any difference?

  NATFHE does not believe that the Concordat and the Research Careers Initiative have made much noticeable difference to the manner in which employing institutions manage their contract researchers. Within the post 1992 university sector it is extremely difficult to find many examples of good practice.

  One exception to the rule is to be found at the University of Gloucester, where the 1999-2000 HESA data[39] shows that the University had 13 per cent of academic staff on fixed-term contracts. A recent analysis of this data published by the Times Higher Educational Supplement shows that the University has the second lowest proportion of such staff of all Universities in the UK. Despite its relative position the University has, however, agreed that it will reduce the number of staff on fixed-term contracts and will only use them where it is essential.

  In future the University itself (despite its relatively low level of research income which makes progress harder than would be the case for larger institutions) will accept greater responsibility for managing risks associated with time-limited funding streams rather than expect individuals to do so.

  NATFHE believes that this approach is central for any strategy aimed at reducing casualisation and enabling higher education staff to develop their talents and to realise their full potential. It is a matter of concern that this perspective is not shared by the majority of higher education employers who continue ask their employees to shoulder the risks and consequences involved in dealing with uncertain funding patterns. The University of Gloucester is also remarkable in other ways as can be demonstrated by the consistent and fair implementation of a range of employment policies beneficial to staff and to the University as an employer. Unfortunately this is not typical of the behaviour of the majority of UK universities and colleges of higher education. We believe that the University of Gloucester would have acted to reduce the proportion of staff employed on fixed term contracts regardless of the existence of the Concordat, which was only advisory and lacked the weight of a national collective agreement. As a consequence the Concordat has not had a noticeable impact within higher education.

6.  How should policy move forward?

  The Roberts' Review[40] highlights the lack of a coherent career structure for researchers. NATFHE believes that researchers should have parity with academic staff and should be paid at the same rates as a lecturer performing work at a similar level. An integrated career structure would not only fairly reward researchers but would also provide incentives for good practice and good teaching.

  The suggested "career trajectory" is an attempt to provide a coherent career pathway for researchers, however the structure outlined within the Roberts' Review would result in the continuation of casualised employment practice within the sector.

  NATFHE believes that in future the use of fixed term contracts will (and should) become the exception rather than the norm. Researchers employed for over four years will have the right to transfer to permanent contracts if their employer is unable to justify the continued use of such a contract. Uncertain funding streams may provide some scope for employers to justify continued use of fixed term contracts, however this reasoning has yet to be tested in the courts.

  The fact that funding has remained constant for as long as four years may be sufficient to justify conversion to permanent status. For the Roberts' Review to criticise the extent of casualisation in higher education is laudable, it is unfortunate that the suggested career structure would retain the essential features of the current exploitative employment relationship under the guise of an employers need to respond flexibly to the market. As stated elsewhere, NATFHE believes that if institutions want to improve research quality and standards, they must invest in their staff. In practical terms this entails higher education employers behaving in a comparable way to most UK employers, by finally shouldering the risks of uncertain research funding themselves rather than continuing to expose their employees to the risks and consequences of uncertain funding.

  NATFHE supports the suggested development of academic career trajectory for research staff leading to a research active teaching role. We also support the suggestion of a research associate trajectory and an industrial trajectory. The establishment of such career pathways for research staff can only be of benefit to employees and employers alike provided that the assumption is that this would be a permanent career pathway, rather than a series of unrelated short term posts.

  The Roberts' Recommendations on the establishment of career pathways is consistent with the recommendations of the Bett Report[41] that non-prescriptive national criteria and appropriate procedures should be developed for UK academic staff. NATFHE believes that new research career pathways should be established and that researchers should be free to change career direction and pursue new career pathways as their career develops.

  The academic trade unions are currently negotiating the shape and structure of new academic pay structures with UCEA. The development of viable career pathways for researchers should be addressed within those negotiations for national application.

  Whatever recommendations the Select Committee set out at the conclusion of their investigation must take into account the need to adhere to best practice in equal opportunities. Any proposal to establish differential salary levels for academic and research staff in SET subjects will have to be justified in terms of equal pay for work of equal value, NATFHE suggests that this would be extremely difficult to achieve.

  To ensure that pay systems operate within the current legislative framework, academics and researchers performing like or similar work must receive the same rates of pay regardless of subject area. Market supplements may be justified provided arrangements are transparent, proofed against claims for equal value and reviewed on a regular basis. The higher education sector is making great efforts to address the problem of equal pay, we hope that the Select Committee will recognise the need to improve pay and conditions in a fair, equitable and transparent manner for all contract researchers and all academics throughout the sector.

24 June 2002

24   The Independent Review of Higher Education Pay and Conditions, Chaired by Sir Michael Bett. 1999. HMSO para 213. Back

25   Ibid para 215. Back

26   Casualisation and Quality by A Chintis and G Williams, Institute of Education, University of London 1999. Back

27   The agreement can be viewed on the NATFHE web site Back

28   Draft JNCHES Guidance on Fixed Term and Casual Employment-2002. Back

29   Set for Success-The supply of people with science, technology, engineering and mathematics skills. Report of Sir Gareth Roberts' 2002. Back

30   Roberts Review page 143. Back

31   HESA statistics on the number of staff employed by age, grade, gender, institution and cost centre grouping. Back

32   HESA collect data on the number of fractional employees only where the contracted hours equate to more than 0.25 WTE. Back

33   Roberts' Review para 5.28. Back

34   Roberts' Review para 5.53. Back

35   Recruitment and retention of staff in UK higher education 2001-research commissioned by HEFCE, SCOP, UCEA and UUK. Back

36   Bett Report 1998-Appendix E. Back

37   Recruitment and retention of staff in UK higher education 2001-page 15. Back

38   Recruitment and retention of staff in UK higher education 2001-page 23. Back

39   HESA data on numbers of academic staff employed on fixed term contracts 1999-2000. Back

40   Roberts' Review 5.18. Back

41   The Bett Report 1998 para 129. Back

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