Memorandum submitted by the University
of East Anglia
1. THE UNIVERSITY
1.1 The University of East Anglia (UEA)
admitted its first undergraduate students in 1963 and, in the
last academic year 13,180 students were registered, including
3,300 postgraduate students. As at March 2002, 1853 students were
registered in the Science Schools for first degrees, together
with 563 postgraduate students. The University has more than 1,700
non-UK students from over 100 countries. It offers many evening
and day courses in locations throughout the region. It employs
around 2,300 staff.
1.2 The University enjoys an international
reputation for high quality research and teaching in a wide variety
of subject areas. The 2001 Research Assessment Exercise confirmed
its place among international research-led universities, with
11 subject areas achieving 5 or 5* ratings, including at least
half of the academic staff and four of the five Science Schools.
1.3 The research activities of the University
are complemented by our involvement in the Norwich Research Park,
which was formed to promote and enhance collaborative links between
UEA, the John Innes Centre (including the Sainsbury Laboratory)
and the Institute of Food Research Norwich Laboratory. With 1,500
science staff and more than 500 postgraduate students, the Norwich
Research Park constitutes one of Europe's largest centres for
the study of plant, microbial and food sciences, health, agriculture
and the environment. We understand that evidence may be supplied
separately from the NRP.
1.4 The authors are members of the University's
Executive Team, with responsibility for the University's research
direction, the management of its Science Schools and of its human
resources and academic infrastructure. Jointly, they have experience
of academic careers in science, including responsibility for managing
research teams or highly specialised services. They have also
contributed to national debates and been invited to give evidence
to the government.
2. 1996 RESEARCH
2.1 The University's response to the 1996
Research Concordat extended beyond its immediate implementation
of a Code of Practice into active support of the work of the Research
Careers Initiative. It rapidly introduced its pioneering scheme
to transfer long-serving research staff to indefinite appointments,
where the prospects for future funding justified this action.
The removal of the end date from such appointments was motivational
but not unproblematic, due to the necessity of bidding for salaries
by senior researchers, as described later in this submission.
2.2 The University also introduced in 2002
contingency funds to permit the promotion of contract research
staff in cases where the existing grants do not allow this (such
as awarded by bodies which were not signatories to the Research
Concordat). It has also established a contingency fund for brief
periods of bridging support between grants. This second fund is
designed to allow the continuity of employment of key staff for
whose further support grant applications remain under active consideration
by funding bodies up to the expiry date of the current contract
3. SUMMARY RECOMMENDATIONS
3.1 The Committee will be well aware of
the view of the Roberts Report that "entering the environment
of postdoctoral research work is an uncertain and, for many, unattractive
prospect" (0.48). This is a view with which UEA agrees, as
we do with the reasons set out by Sir Gareth Roberts for the unattractiveness
of such work. We see no reason, however, why the barriers of lack
of training and career prospects should not be overcome by HEIs
if funding were available to provide the resources and pay for
the time needed for CRS to attend to strengthen the skills necessary
to apply successfully for posts in academia as well as other sectors
where employers have been critical of graduate and post-doctoral
applicants. But in our view, it is not simply a matter of introducing
a requirement for HEIs to make such provision as a condition of
success in applying for research funding. Our own estimated costs
for introducing a training and career development programme is
some £12,000 per annum for 100 places. Our current total
of CRS is 368: other HEIs will employ far greater numbers, with
consequential increases. This amount is not large in itself, but
needs to be seen in the context of increasing demands placed on
our HR budget in order to respond to equal pay audits, improving
gender gaps, complying with the Race Relations (Amendment) Act
and other legislation which places terms and conditions of employment
on an equal footing. The cost of employment generally continues
3.2 Greater security in the provision of
external funding, together with longer duration of grants, will
permit institutions to consider seriously and to offer some limited
career posts such as Scientific Officer or even their own Research
Fellowships. Additional funding will also permit HEIs to address
the barriers to retaining women scientists during or after a period
of family formation. These include absence from research activity
and its consequential effect on curricula vitae, loss of
contact with developments in subject areas and new skills, and
salary levels in relation to the cost of childcare.
3.3 We would, therefore, like to see a clear
distinction between short-term posts suitable and available for
newly-qualified post-doctoral researchers, with funding available
to employing institutions to allow this group to receive adequate
career development training, including transferable skills, to
permit them to move on successfully. Such funding would also include
an element of time to allow researchers to undertake such training.
Funding should be available to pay for time needed to apply for
new grants. At present, these are prepared, almost without exception,
"out of hours", regularly creating long hours at work.
Women in particular comment that they "cannot imagine having
children and being able to do the job [I have]", or about
being "almost desperate about having to make a choice between
family and career".
3.4 If these two changes came about, it
would be possible (and expected) for universities to plan longer-term
career paths for those researchers for whom it is mutually beneficial
that they remain in university research. As a senior researcher
has commented, "Any laboratory requires some long- term employees
to create continuity (teach methodology, etc) which is vital to
any research effort, and help prevent "re-inventing the wheel"
as new people come in".
3.5 We wish to take this opportunity to
state that promotion criteria, with their emphasis on publications,
in the main driven by the requirements of the Research Assessment
Exercise, are detrimental to women during the early part of their
careers, when they are establishing their own research.
4.1 Our observations and experience lead
us to conclude that the present funding model supports only a
cohort of jobbing researchers. This is the final deterrent on
a path into Science, Engineering and Technology, the unattractiveness
of which has been amply described in the Roberts Report. The lack
of sufficiently attractive jobs must contribute to the decreasing
number of graduates continuing in educationin all sectorsand
thus exacerbate the decline in these subjects. Conversely, the
contribution to science of researchers with security of employment
is demonstrably significant in terms of effective and efficient
research. We are heartened that such extensive discussion of the
problem is taking place at high levels.
5. RESPONSE TO
5.1 The following information is based on
responses made to us by senior managers of the University, individual
grantholders and contract researchers. Also by reference to surveys
carried out by UEA or in which the University has participated
(listed at end) and to information collected in response to other
initiatives currently in train (and mainly addressed at women's
issues). We have taken the opportunity to append a report presented
to the Higher Education Staff Development Association on the first
year of operation of the network of women scientists on contracts,
and draw the Select Committee's attention particularly to paragraphs
15 and 16 on page 4 of that Report which describe the findings
of the survey carried out by the network in 2000.
5.2 Does the preponderance of short-term research
contracts really matter? Why?
5.2.1 The availability of post-doctoral
appointments for a normal minimum duration of three years is helpful
to recently qualified postdoctoral researchers, since such posts
serve a dual purpose to CRS themselves. They provide valuable
work experience as well as an opportunity to undertake further
research in a particular area of science. The increased number
of such posts which have become available in science during the
last five years is to be welcomed, and we hope this will continue.
5.2.2 These posts are highly suitable for
the "job entrants" and "career starters",
to use Sir Gareth Roberts' classification. But, for this reason,
and in spite of the welcome volume of available posts, these remain
on the periphery of research careers. The preponderance provides
no career structure and acts as a deterrent to those who aim for
a career in academic research, yet do not seek a career as an
5.2.3 For newly qualified post-doctoral
researchers, the effective period of "productive work"
is reduced during the first and last six months of the contract,
as they work themselves in and seek their next post, respectively.
5.3 What are the implications for researchers
and their careers?
5.3.1 As well as the concern registered
above with respect to lack of career structure, we are also concerned
that the forthcoming Fixed Term Regulations will discourage, if
not prevent, the sector from providing continuing work for a further
three year period. Our experience is that the development of independent
enquiry requires a minimum period of five years, and the difficulty
over renewing a contract will damage the work of the grantholder
(or principal investigator) and the individual junior researchers.
It is also likely to halt UEA's programme of reviewing researchers
who have served six years, with a view to transferring to indefinite
appointments on the basis of future funding prospects. The resulting
enforced mobility, particularly in relatively remote centres such
as Norwich, has a particularly adverse impact on women scientists.
We believe that the result will be further discouragement to researchers
to apply to UEA.
5.3.2 The level of starting salary awarded
by research grants is often at the bottom end of the salary scale
which makes it difficult to appoint more experienced researchers,
including those capable of project managing research programmes.
5.4 Is there evidence that the present situation
causes good researchers to leave?
5.4.1 UEA is reviewing the evidence which
suggests that its turnover among research staff between 1997 and
2001, inclusive, has increased individual respondents had direct
experience of or knew of colleagues who had staff who left to
go into the private sector or abroad before the end of a project.
Resignations occur typically within the last 12 months of a post,
causing difficulties with the final phase of research and with
reports and other means of disseminating results.
5.5 What would be the right balance between
contract and permanent research staff in universities and research
5.5.1 We would suggest that at least one
permanent post be available within the majority of established
research groups, for example, a Research Manager, with responsibility
for the use of specialist equipment as well as staff and student
supervision and the day-to-day operation of a laboratory. This
post would probably be located on the RAII scale. But it requires
genuine additional funding, possibly by allowing for the inclusion
of charges for this provision in the permitted costs for research
projects or providing sufficient level of overheads.
5.6 Has the Concordat and the Research Careers
Initiative made any difference?
5.6.1 They have been most welcome in raising
the profile of this large group (ca. 40,000 in any one year) of
highly-skilled and qualified researchers, but not all funding
bodies were signatories. The RCI has been an effective and influential
vehicle for disseminating good practice. Also welcome is the developmental
work undertaken on career "toolkits" for example, which
are shortly to be launched through a HEFCE-funded initiative.
5.6.2 Our experience with respect to their
impact on funding is of inconsistency among signatories in meeting
the aims of the Concordat. Where funding bodies are not signatories
then there can be further cost to an employer. An example would
be the European Union, which does not provide for work to be placed
in abeyance nor does it pay maternity pay for women employed on
its research grants. The current difficulties with research council
grant rounds is unsettling, even if likely to be for unique reasons.
5.7 How should the policy move forward?
5.7.1 Core funding is needed for the introduction
of a career structure and for training and career development
for the majority of CRS who would move on anyway at the end of
the first post-doctoral contract.
5.7.2 Funding or grant application rules
should be revised in such a way as to permit more senior researchers
to bid for their own salaries. In this way, greater security can
be offered. The Select Committee may wish to note that grants
from the EU already permit this, while those from some of the
UK Research Councils do not.
5.7.3 High flyers in research do not all
seek to become lecturers. Our survey in 2000 reported that the
majority of our CRS find job satisfaction in dedicated research
careers and seek to remain in such employment. Senior CRS therefore
need to be able to bid for and win funding to support their own
salaries. This is not currently provided for uniformly, including
even signatories to the Concordat.
5.7.4 The retention of researchers who have
completed their first post-doctoral post contributes significantly
to the effective and efficient completion of research projects,
due regard being paid to performance management policies.
5.7.5 We have also been asked to record
the concern expressed by our academic and our contract research
staff at the time required to make grant applications. This has
come to constitute almost an additional job of work.
5.7.6 Overhead levels are insufficient to
maintain an infrastructure for research. We do not propose to
labour this point, as it has been amply described in the recently
published Transparency Review.
Surveys carried out at UEA and referred to above:
2000 All CRS at UEA and the Norwich Research
2001 Two surveys conducted in the School of
Biological Sciences as part of individual qualifications (diploma
in management and PGCE).
2002 Participation in the Contract Research
staff online survey (pilot)published in March 2002.
Survey of science and technology final year
undergraduates at UEA into career choices.
21 June 2002