Memorandum submitted by Prospect
1. Prospect is a trade union representing
over 105,000 members in the public and private sectors. Prospect
was formed in November 2001 by merger of the Institution of Professionals,
Managers and Specialists with the Engineers' and Managers' Association.
Our members work in a wide range of jobs and organisations including
in the aviation, agriculture, defence, electricity supply, energy,
environment, heritage, industry and scientific research centres.
Prospect represents large numbers of staff on fixed term contracts
in these sectors. In this submission we use the terms "fixed-term
contract" (FTC) and "short-term contract" (STC)
2. The body of our submission is structured
to address the questions posed by the Select Committee. However,
we would highlight the following recommendations for action by
Priority should be given to maximising
the impact of direct funding on the science base and to securing
a balance between core and contract funding. 60 per cent is the
minimum acceptable level of core funding to enable research institutes
or agencies to plan beyond the short-term.
Where government contracts are let
for the application of science and technology, a percentage should
be earmarked for long-term research by the contractor. In line
with the Rothschild principles, we see no good reason for this
to be less than 10 per cent.
In implementing recommendation 6.2
of the Roberts review, the Government should ensure that there
is also appropriate trade union representation on the group established
to support and monitor the responses of R&D employers to improving
pay and career structures.
Does the preponderance of short-term research
contracts really matter? Why?
3. The preponderance of short-term research
contracts does matter and has consequences at three levels: individual,
organisational and for the wider SET knowledge base.
4. Relying to any significant degree on
STC staff for scientific research work disrupts continuity and
adversely affects the organisational "stock" of knowledge.
In addition, short-term research contracts foster short-term research
proposals at the expense of long-term basic research. As Prospect
members from one research organisation have commented:
"This has placed enormous burdens on staff
in many areas who can find themselves over-committed and under
great pressure to ensure delivery of work. The lack of continuity
in funding and apparent lack of strategic direction has led to
a growing feeling that there is no "career" hereonly
a treadmill of endless project work that can only be delivered
by superhuman effort. An increasing number of staff have become
demotivated by this to the extent that whereas they were once
prepared to "go the extra mile" both in the public interest
and in furthering their own career and scientific interests, they
now feel that this is just another job and "clock off"
on time . . . A key factor in the success of this organisation
to date has been the vast experience and expertise gained by staff
before the current arrangements were put in place. The opportunities
to replenish that experience no longer exist under the present
regimewe are mining this precious resource without investing
for the future".
5. Yet, many research institutes are still
heavily dependent on STC researchers. Table 1 shows the percentage
of STC to all appointments at a number of research institutes.
It also shows that, in every case, women fill a disproportionate
number of STC appointments.
||STCs as Percentage of All Contracts (per cent)
|Note: Anonymised research council data 2001.
6. Current data from one of these research institutes
shows that the highest concentrations of STCs are among junior
scientific staff (assistant scientific officer and equivalent)
and post-doctoral research staff. 50 per cent of junior scientific
staff and 40 per cent of all post-doctoral researchers are on
STCs. The concentration of post-doctoral STCs is lower for researchers
who are able to progress to a senior research grade, but below
this level it rises to 75 per cent.
7. Many Prospect members work in organisations in which
newly appointed STC researchers spend their first few months training,
then operate productively for a period of no more than two years
before shifting their focus onto finding a new contract or permanent
8. A year ago, the then IPMS conducted a series of case
studies into the future of R&D. One of these (case study 2
in the attached leaflet) describes the experience of a core-funded
scientist in a research institute forced to spend an increasing
amount of time writing grant proposals to gain short-term staff
and providing technical support for short-term staff in post.
His testimony is an indictment of short-termism:
"The consequences of the short-term syndrome in public
science are a lack of identity with the project, poor quality
control, superficiality in work and publication, and a lack of
identity with the institution. Public science is regarded as the
hand maiden of business".
9. A Prospect member from another Research Council describes
problems in the area of bioinformatics, where lack of job security
and career progression compete against salary and other advantages
offered by industry. This leads to severe recruitment and retention
"Even if we can recruit good staff (and sometimes we
cannot recruit anyone at all), we can seldom keep them more than
a year or so".
10. Similar problems have been reported to us in atmospheric/marine
sciences, for example in recruiting postdoctoral students with
good mathematics or physics backgrounds. A recent recruitment
exercise sought to fill 10 postdoctoral positions:
"For most of the posts, only one or two suitable candidates
(at most) applied. In four cases suitable candidates were found,
and in two cases offered positions, but then they were put off
by the salary level, combined with the short contract time. In
several cases the offers made were well above the bottom of the
post-doctoral scale, but this required a shortening of the contract
time to stay within budget .
. Many of the potential PhD students, being highly numerate, have
looked to go directly into alternative jobs, for example in the
City, whilst the best postdocs are being drawn off to the USA
because of better salaries and career prospects".
11. The consequences for the individuals concerned are
discussed in response to the following question.
What are the implications for researchers and their careers?
12. For the staff employed on short-term contracts, effects
Uncertainty about their future and that of their
family as a permanent state of mind.
Lack of career progressioneven if they
do secure a series of short-term contracts, these are often all
at the same grade (with a long-term consequence for pension entitlements).
It is too early yet to judge the effects of the Concordat in this
Feeling under pressure (often self-induced) to
work long hours in order to complete work within the funding period.
Having to leave at the end of the funding before
they can satisfactorily complete or write up a piece of work,
affecting their publication output.
In some cases, having to leave a job early in
order to secure a new position (and spending time on job-hunting
and interviews at the expense of the current post).
Delays in starting familiesin some cases,
feeling unable to start a family at alluntil they do secure
a longer-term position.
Where both partners are scientists, difficulty
in continuing to find employment in the same geographical area.
This often seems to result in the female partner leaving science.
Difficulties in securing mortgages and other financial
Inability to apply as grantholders for Research
Council grants or studentships because they will not necessarily
be in post for the duration of the funding periodthis makes
it more difficult to establish a research reputation.
13. From the point of view of senior scientists who are
themselves on longer-term contracts, line-managing short-term
contract staff, the adverse consequences include:
A disproportionate amount of time spent preparing
funding applications in order to retain existing valued staff,
at the expense of time spent on research, writing publications,
public understanding of science and other key activities.
The need sometimes to spend a fair proportion
of the duration of a grant training a new staff member.
Difficulty of maintaining research, which is by
nature long-term (eg genetic resources conservation, many types
of field studies, some ecology research, tree biology) on the
basis of short-term contracts.
The frequent loss of staff (often outstanding
ones) before the end of a contract as they move on to new positions,
and consequent worry over completing studies and meeting contractual
Distress at being unable to offer contract staff
any form of job security or, in some cases, career progression.
Concern that research is not seen as an attractive
career option by our most able undergraduate and postgraduate
General concerns about erosion of the UK's skill
base, particularly in areas where the skill must be built up over
a long period, such as plant breeding, taxonomy, statistics.
Barriers to recruiting non-EU citizens to short-term
contracts even in circumstances where they are the only credible
(or indeed, the only) applicants, making it even more difficult
to carry out research or increase the skills base.
14. There are also implications for pay. For example:
There are areassuch as the Meat and Livestock
Commissionwhere fixed term contract workers are paid on
the same scale as others, but are excluded from performance related
There are cases where fixed term contract workers
are excluded from pay increases awarded to all other staff. A
recent instance occurred at the Institute of Trading Standards
In many areas of the public sector fixed-term
contract employees are excluded from access to the pension scheme
and, even where admitted, they are excluded from other pensions
benefits, such as purchasing added years. Many scientists in research
councils come into the pension scheme late, due to their post-graduate
training or university post-doctoral experience. This makes it
almost impossible for them to accumulate enough service to gain
a full pension on retirement. This has been especially damaging
to those who have been on repeated fixed-term contracts.
Is there evidence that the present situation causes good researchers
15. Research council data shows that turnover rates are
on average two to three times higher for STC researchers than
for those employed on indefinite contracts, though in some cases
the disparity is much greater. Table 2 compares turnover rates
at a number of research institutes.
|Research Institute ||Percentage Turnover Rates (per cent)
|Note: Anonymised research council data 2001.
16. As indicated, there is strong anecdotal evidence
of researchers moving from one contract to another in an effort
to maintain security of employment.
17. There is also evidence from Prospect's own personal
and career development programme, "Opportunities for Change",
of STC researchers driven to seek a complete change of direction
because of the insecurity of their situation:
"Immediately following this course, and largely as a
result of it, I have decided to quit science and apply for teacher
training. The course made me realise that I could get job satisfaction
doing something else and that I wasn't going to be able to achieve
my long-term goals if I continued in my current field. Thanks
for providing this workshop. It was timely for me and gave me
the kick I needed to make the radical career change that has resulted
in me being much happier in the last few weeks".
"I wanted to write to thank you for all your input, help
and ideas that made the day such a success and so useful to me.
In fact since the course I have done no work, merely surfed the
net looking for a job. Whilst this may not have been the outcome
you had in mind, the sessions certainly galvanised me into action
again and I am sure that I am better placed in findingand
gettinga good job now. I think that in future it would
be of great benefit to encourage students who are finishing up
their PhDs to attend such courses as well as staff on fixed term
What would be the right balance between contract and permanent
research staff in universities and research institutions?
18. As stated in our response to the DTI's consultation
on the Fixed Term Contracts Directive, Prospect considers that
all fixed term contracts should be subject to a test of objective
justification. In our experience, many employers use fixed term
contracts as an extended "probation" period, with the
easy option to dismiss such workers at the end of the fixed term.
The use of fixed term contracts should be limited to situations
where there is a genuine short-term need for the worker. Whilst
some funding will always be short-term, this does not mean that
jobs should be offered on a short-term basis. Indeed, rigidly
coupling employment to the funding cycles of individual contracts
is a hallmark of shortsighted and lazy personnel management. Where
absolutely unavoidable, jobs offered on STCs should have terms
and conditions of employment equivalent to permanent jobs.
Has the Concordat and the Research Careers Initiative made
19. The position is starting to improve in some areas,
driven mainly by legislative reform rather than the Concordat
and RCI. The abolition of the unfair dismissal waivers and the
proposed abolition of redundancy waivers have had the most significant
20. However, it is still a common experience for staff
in scientific research establishments to have to serve time on
a series of fixed term contracts before being offered an indefinite
appointment. It is in this arena, that the potential of the Concordat
and RCI is greatest. Yet, although these initiatives are starting
to have a positive impact, there is still much more that needs
to be done. Our impression, from outside the university sector,
is that there are pockets of good practice but that these have
not yet built up to critical mass.
21. Two organisations that have taken positive steps
to build better practice are the Natural Environment Research
Council (NERC) and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research
22. BBSRC has introduced fixed term "career track"
contracts for specific grades of research staff. Career track
posts are offered for an initial period of five years, during
which progress will be regularly reviewed against a series of
clearly defined targets. After four years a final review takes
place and, if successful, the employee transfers to an indefinite
23. In NERC, similarly, the policy is the STCs must be
converted to indefinite appointments after a five-year period
or released. This will reduce to four years for new contracts
or contract renewals after July 2002. Two of NERC's research centres,
the British Geological Survey (BGS) and Proudman Oceanographic
Laboratory (POL), no longer take on staff on contracts except
in the most exceptional circumstances. For the STCs that remain
in BGS, the policy is to review at three years rather than five.
In effect the review is at one year nine months so as to give
the staff the earliest notice of intention. Under this scheme
there are in effect only 25 STCs left in BGS, down from 170 two
years ago. 98 per cent of all STCs are converted to open-ended.
The Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) still takes most of
its new staff on a STC basis and has a STC population of about
17 per cent. However, there is a high percentage of conversion
to open-ended at the five-year review. The British Antarctic Survey
(BAS) takes on all staff initially on a STC basis. BAS's conversion
rate to open-ended is, however, very poor. In effect, they currently
seem to have a "policy" of termination at five years.
How should policy move forward?
24. Priority should be given to maximising the impact
of direct funding on the science base and to securing a balance
between core and contract funding. Although contract-based research,
which is essentially short-term, can respond to changing needs,
core funding is essential for long-term research and surveillance.
As the Council for Science and Technology have noted, many R&D
programmes are long-term in nature and "cannot be turned
on and off". The BSE inquiry report makes it clear that reaction
to new developments and crises depends heavily on the continuity
of pre-existing research lines and an ability for government policy
makers to know who or what research to call on.
25. The balance between core and contract funding will
vary according to organisational needs, but in our view 60 per
cent is the minimum acceptable level of core funding to enable
research institutes or agencies to plan beyond the short term
and to develop long term strategies. Furthermore, where government
contracts are let for the application of S&T, a percentage
should be earmarked for long term research by the contractor.
The 1972 "Rothschild principle" laid down in the "Framework
for Government Research and Development" sets this percentage
at 10 per cent, and we see no good reason for it to be less than
this. Contract funding should as far as possible be conducted
in a framework which maximises continuity and smooth transition.
26. To attract individuals to work in R&D, we support
Sir Gareth Roberts' recommendations on the need for an attractive
starting package and competitive salary progression. We are very
concerned however that, given the constraints on public sector
funding, such improvements should not be at the expense either
of other SET staff or programmes. This is a key issue and will,
no doubt, be addressed as the Government establishes the group
recommended in the Roberts review to monitor and support employers'
responses to these challenges. It is essential that there is a
least one trade union representative on that group.
27. The other important dimension for individuals, also
highlighted in the Roberts report, is the need to improve career
structures and working experiences. As indicated, the RCI has
made a useful start in the university sector but our impression
is that it has not yet reached critical mass and in PSREs, it
has had no locus. Prospect therefore developed its own personal
and career development programme for FTC scientists, "Opportunities
for Change". As described in the attached leaflet, this has
run successfully as a partnership project over a three-year period.
It provides an opportunity for individuals to step back from daily
work pressures and, with the benefit of expert guidance, to review
their current position and future career options. This is achieved
A series of workshops, seminars and one-to-one
advice surgeries; and
A personal and career development portfolio on
The challenge now is to integrate "Opportunities for
Change" more closely with existing workplace provision.