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


Memorandum submitted by the University of Glasgow

  The University of Glasgow is pleased to respond to the inquiry launched by the Science and Technology Committee, considering short-term research contracts in science and engineering, and would like to contribute the following points for consideration by the Committee.

  The University believes that the large increase in the number of contract Research Staff in the Universities since 1992 is the direct and predictable result of the change in the dual support funding system. Universities are chronically under-funded. One of the very few ways open to increase income is to increase the number of contract research staff, whose salaries carry a modest 46 per cent overhead. Funding for equipment by contrast comes from diminishing HEFC pots or is highly competitive (c.f. JIF with a 10 per cent success rate) and carries penalties (such as huge preparation costs for JIF, or demanding matching funding from own resources, such as JREI).

  Short-term contracts can form a valuable part of career development for younger people such as recent PhDs. A large fraction move successfully into permanent posts in academia or elsewhere. Those remaining in University research posts in the longer term are a mixture of the highly dedicated and the less successful or less motivated.

  All academic salaries are too low, especially research salaries. We pay a scientist with seven years' training £20K per annum. In Scotland, a train driver with one year's experience earns £28K. There is no agreed seniority on the pay scale conferred by having completed a PhD, even though financial hardship is suffered whilst working for the PhD. All the financial incentives are against undertaking a PhD and against remaining in academia.

  The Concordat imposed expectations on the Universities as employers but provided no resource. Recent legislation giving acquired rights to researchers after four years of employment has therefore focused managerial attention far more than the earlier Concordat. There will be far reaching consequences:

    —  Research Staff will on average become (finally) 10 years older than at present and thereby more expensive to employ. Research Councils customarily prefer to fund at lower points on the salary scale. This has already left senior research staff unfunded and unfundable. Universities that obey the concordat properly will be at a disadvantage.

    —  In the short term, quality of University research will improve due to the retention of expertise and the reduced cost of/need to recruit and retrain.

    —  In the longer term the quality of University research might fall due to lack of renewal by some in the investment in skills for new techniques and subject areas. The high degree of focusing of research staff offers less breadth for development than academic posts that combine teaching, research and administration.

    —  Contract Research Staff will still be more vulnerable than academics funded out of core teaching and research income, as the Research Councils must of necessity fund that research which is the best value for money. Therefore there will be a need both for bridging funding between external contracts and for redundancy pay where the funded demand for work in a speciality at a particular location (or overall) has diminished. This is a new financial burden on Universities. Since their budgets are already overstretched this can only come from an increase in the 46 per cent overhead. We should welcome this even if it trims the volume of research by a few percent. However, the Universities cannot solve this without Research Council funds.

  We should resist the temptation to get involved in pooling surplus research staff to slot them into vacancies in other Universities. This would become administratively burdensome and may create a pool of people being moved around between employers.

  The professional position of PhD Research Staff in promoted grades needs to be enhanced. Universities need to allow them to supervise research students. The Research Councils need to find mechanisms to allow them to propose new work and to act as Principal Investigators, which is already allowed by a few.

19 June 2002

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