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


Supplementary memorandum submitted by Universities UK


  HESA figures show that the number of Contract Research Staff (CRS) has increased by 34 per cent between 1994-95 and 2000-01, the overall percentage of male CRS has increased by about 20 per cent during this period, while the percentage of women has leapt by 58 per cent. The total figures are:


  The majority of researchers are on short/fixed term research contracts as opposed to open-ended/permanent contracts. This is a consequence of the dual support system, particularly the support given for research projects, where often the vast proportion of research support comes in discrete pots of restricted funds. A significantly higher proportion of women than men in all ethnic/nationality groupings are on fixed term contracts.

Why are women (of all ethnic groupings) more likely to be on short/fixed term research contracts?

  There might be several possible reasons for this, but all are anecdotal; there is very little data available. In some instances, for example, career destinations as in the Academic Research Careers in Scotland project, it has proved possible to obtain better data and we hope to be able to build on this.


  Mobility is important for research careers and the impact of partnering and parenting. Women might have domestic or caring responsibilities which means that they are unable to move around the country for the "best" jobs, and instead have to select a job from a "restricted" pool which might not necessarily be the best job (for example, an open ended contract).

  In association with this, it might be more difficult for some women with caring responsibilities to go for the more prestigious posts such as the Marie Curie Fellowships. This obviously evolves around the issue of the "ability to manage a career". The same could apply for the "dual science career couple" if the male in the partnership secures a more established position, it is more likely that the women would have to take the best available option which would probably be a short term research contract.


  Research by Blake[68] on gender differences in grant application behaviour indicates that, while women are just as successful as men in obtaining research grants when they do apply, women make fewer grant applications in the first place. A major reason for this is that fewer women occupy positions where grant applications are usually made, such as senior posts (permanent posts) or are on short-term contracts and often people can only apply for grants for a shorter period than the length of their employment contract.


  Essentially, this refers to the environment within which short term contract staff work and whether there might be factors affecting women's application rates, recruitment, retention, remuneration (gender pay gap) and career progression. Evidence suggests that their achievements do not receive the same level of recognition as male scientists, for example, women are still the minority of award winners in science. Recent research by Professor Ackers[69] shows that occupational culture and attitudes about women's roles and abilities have an impact on women in science, affecting the decisions they make and the treatment they receive on both an academic and interpersonal level.


  Throughout their careers researchers build up their reputations, professional profiles (publication output) and establish themselves within important networks within the research field. If a female researcher takes a career break, for example for maternity reasons, this might be detrimental to maintaining her position in these networks and result in a reduction in their "reputation capital", making it more difficult to return and to secure an open ended contract.

Ways forward

  Universities are working to redress this balance. New negotiating structures have been set up with the seven major HE unions: AUT; NATFHE; AMICUS-MSF; Unison; TGWU; GMB and EIS. There is a commitment to modernise pay structures and a range of agreements on new guidance have been reached through the Joint National Committee for Higher Education Staff (JNCHES). Guidance on equal pay and role analysis and job evaluation have been issued. And guidance on fixed term and casual employment is about to be launched. In addition, there are initiatives to ensure recruitment and retention of top quality staff as well as enhancing staff management, development and training and the mainstreaming of equality. Much of this is being carried out by the Universities and Colleges Employers' Association (UCEA), the JNCHES, and the Equality Challenge Unit (ECU).

  Particularly important are:

    —  New JNCHES Guidance (Equal Pay, Role Analysis and Job Evaluation[70], and particularly the Guidance on Fixed Term and Casual Employment). This should make a significant difference to research staff.

    —  Revised UCEA and nationally recognised HE trades unions "Framework for Partnership: Equal opportunities in Employment" will be launched in Autumn 2002. This will encourage local partnership agreements between HEIs and Trade Unions to promote equality of opportunity for all staff throughout the HE sector.

    —  The Academic Research Careers in Scotland Project is a systematic study of the career destinations of contract research staff in Scottish HEIs and has provided useful information on career trajectories for research staff.

    —  Athena Project within the ECU aims to increase the numbers of women academics in SET at all levels and improve their career development and includes initiatives such as the development of a support networks for contract researchers and mentoring and professional development programmes.

    —  HEFCE's rewarding and developing staff in HE initiative, is funding to support the development of human resources management in the sector. This relates to the recruitment, retention, reward and development of staff as well as helping to modernise management processes in the sector.

    —  HEFCE have commissioned a scoping project to develop a research specification which will take forward its policy to enhance equality of opportunity for all staff. This might involve a longitudinal study on academic staff.

    —  The Greenfield Report: ECU (in partnership with other SET stakeholders) is working with Baroness Greenfield to develop a stronger and more strategic approach to increasing the participation of women in science and engineering. The focus is on action and consideration will be given to looking at support for women, infrastructure for delivery, the policy environment and tackling cultural issues.

    —  ECU is actively encouraging all HEIs to mainstream equality. Emphasis is placed on the need to ensure that this is carried forward in relation to:

      —  the institution's strategic vision, mission and aims;

      —  its aspirations in teaching and learning; and

      —  its aspirations in research.

and in the more operational level in:

      —  all units of activity (academic, support, administrative, service);

      —  all staff-related policies, procedures and practices;

      —  all administrative/management functions;

      —  all staff development (including appraisal);

      —  all recruitment, retention, progression and promotion procedures and practices; and

      —  all contractual relationships, including procurement, work-placement, teaching and training agreements.


  Universities give research staff on short-term contracts the same entitlement to maternity leave and pay as any permanent academic. Hence, if a member of staff moves from one short-term contract to another within the university, without a long break in service, all service will be counted as continuous and cumulative. This is the same as for permanent academics. As with normal standard employment practice elsewhere, it is unlikely that service would be cumulative if research staff on short-term contracts moved between universities.


  The Select Committee suggested this as a way forward. We entirely agree that this could be appropriate in some select instances.

  However, there are major academic disadvantages. These are:

    —  the research projects which bring the funding require a broad range of specialist skills and a limited pool of expertise on offer would seriously restrict the university's ability to compete for the funding—specifically to match the research with the right skills. It might, therefore, be a self-defeating step;

    —  technology is developing rapidly and many of these research projects are at the leading edge of developments. A university with a pool of permanent researchers might soon find its expertise is outdated;

    —  academics would be prevented from using their own post-doc students on the research;

    —  it restricts academic freedom to select the research they consider appropriate at the time;

    —  it inhibits individuals who see this work as a temporary interim stage to a permanent academic career or career elsewhere.

  The Select Committee will appreciate that all these issues need to be considered in deciding where such an approach might be appropriate.

  There is a further major problem for pre-1992 universities, where most short term contract staff work. A Model Statute was introduced into pre-92 universities in 1990 by the University Commissioners appointed by the Privy Council in accordance with section 202 to section 205 of the Education Reform Act 1988. Its procedures are more demanding than normal redundancy procedures in employment elsewhere or, indeed, for any other university staff group. For example, the Model Statute procedures require the university Council to take the decision in each and every case of a potential redundancy. The termination of a fixed-term contract is almost always a redundancy. A large university might have up to 300 of these terminations annually.

  Having identified a potential redundancy, the university cannot then act—it has to appoint a redundancy committee, which must include two members not employed by the university to carry out the selection for redundancy. In this way, the management of the university is distanced from dealing with what elsewhere would be a relatively straightforward management issue.

  The Committee, itself, has no power to decide on appropriate action. It, in turn, has to report back to another Council meeting which has to approve its recommendations. If any employee is dismissed for redundancy, s/he quite properly has the right to appeal. However, under the model statute procedures, that appeal must be heard by an independent barrister or solicitor with at least 10 years experience. Again no university management is involved. This whole process can take up to a year to complete, takes the whole decision-making outside the university management and throughout all this process, the employee would continue to be on full pay. At the end of this process, the individual would still have the right to complain to an employment tribunal and the independent process would start all over again. All the costs throughout this process fall on the university.

June 2002

68   "Who applies for Research Funding?", January 2001. Back

69   The participation of women researchers in the TMR Marie Curie Fellowships, Professor Ackers, 2001. Back

70   The UCEA and the unions, with the exception of AUT, are parties to the JNCHES Guidance on Role Analysis and Job Evaluation. Back

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