Select Committee on Science and Technology Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20-31)



Mr Heath

  20. John, you said particularly that you did not feel you were getting the teaching experience you wanted. Obviously the short termism is not going as far as personal prospects or career development is concerned. Are you finding fulfilment in your research roles or are you peripheral to the projects as well because of the short-term contract?
  (Dr Sawyer) I find short-term fulfilment in what I am doing and I enjoy doing the research. I find I cannot develop an interest in a particular topic too closely because funding will run out for that particular interest. I have invested lots of time on that particular project and now I have to start something new. That is what I have done two or three times before in my career and it is what I am doing now in this new post. If I have to change posts it is not to do the same work or even extend the work that I have done, it is to start something else that is new. For me now a short-term contract means I do what someone else wants to do, I have no opportunity to do what I want to do or even suggest what I want to do.

  21. Even within that, is there a period at the end of the contract when your attention is on securing your next contract whatever that might be?
  (Dr Sawyer) My attention now, having just started my current contract, is on securing my next contract.

Dr Turner

  22. You are not able to develop expertise and reputation in your field because you have to keep chopping and changing?
  (Dr Sawyer) Yes. I have papers in five or six different areas. I do not have a considerable publication list in one area. Whilst that can be argued to be a good thing, at the same time I cannot ever be a reputable person on a particular topic.

  23. As an academic it is always bad.
  (Dr Bambra) I think you end up being a jack of all trades, do you not?
  (Dr Sawyer) Yes, master of none.


  24. You work in very distinguished institutes. What have the institutes done for you? You are part of a big employer, have they any encouraging schemes for you? Have you ever been taken in, not to the Vice-Chancellor but some way down the pecking order, to talk about it, maybe the personnel officer or the so-called personnel officer?
  (Mr Ahern) No, definitely not. Certainly the institution is aware of the situation and it is a very hot topic across the board. It is not just somebody junior like myself, for instance, but even senior staff who would be a PI on the project I am working on, say, they are in exactly the same situation as I am, they are thinking about where their next funding is coming from. Once you get to professorial level you are on the hard funding so at least you have got five years but everybody else below that, they are all in the same situation, senior lecturers are being underwritten by departments because they cannot get the funds to secure their contracts.

Dr Iddon

  25. If you were—and I hope it does not happen, of course—sick for weeks and months rather than days, would you be covered under these contracts?
  (Dr Bambra) I am.
  (Dr Sawyer) I have ten days I think, or 20 days it might be, of sick leave.

  26. Paid sick leave?
  (Dr Sawyer) Yes.

  27. After that you are on your own?
  (Dr Sawyer) Just like any other employment I would think, yes.
  (Dr Bambra) I have got the statutory sick pay rights.
  (Dr Sawyer) That is the same.
  (Mr Ahern) I have got the same but every time I sign my new contract I waive my right to redundancy.
  (Dr Sawyer) Yes, I waive it.


  28. Do you have paternity and maternity rights?
  (Dr Bambra) I did not think I did. I thought it said in my contract that I did not have maternity rights but one of my colleagues has suggested I should have so I am not sure.

Geraldine Smith

  29. You were not very impressed at all with the Roberts Review, what would you see as a good solution, a good way forward for yourselves? What would improve your own circumstances?
  (Dr Bambra) I think either more permanency so you are employed by the university and then the funds come in that way or if they still insist on using fixed-term contracts whereby they are longer. I felt that two years was small but now I have met people on four months I almost feel lucky and it should not be like that. So something which is perhaps more common in other sectors, five years, something whereby you can move house and get a mortgage.

Mr Harris

  30. A standard minimum contract?
  (Dr Bambra) Yes.

Dr Turner

  31. Do your contracts have redundancy waivers?
  (Dr Sawyer) Yes.

  Chairman: I have to move on. It has gone very, very quickly. It has been very informative. Thank you very much for relating your experience to us today. We will be doing our bit, I can assure you. Good luck in your careers, wherever you end up doing. Thank you.

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