Select Committee on Science and Technology Eighth Report


Over 40,000 researchers in Britain's universities are employed on short-term contracts, some as short as one month. In science and technology around half of all researchers are on short-term contracts. This Report examines how this situation arose; the effects it has on the researchers themselves, the higher education institutions and on the research undertaken; considers what is being done to address any problems; and seeks to establish what still needs to be done.

We found widespread dissatisfaction and demoralisation among contract researchers, some of whom have been employed on 20 different contracts in as many years. For many researchers there is no career structure and little hope of obtaining a permanent position. The research in our universities suffers in such a climate. Many researchers are either new in position or searching for their next contract. Research is left unfinished or unpublished.

In recent years the proportion of research income for universities that has come through short project grants has increased. The financial pressures faced by universities mean that it is risky for them to employ researchers for longer than the research grant. But universities have deflected the risk onto the researchers; this bad management has added to the plight of contract researchers. In this respect, universities have failed their research workforce and the UK's science base.

The Research Councils, from whom much of the project funding is derived, have failed to take responsibility for the researchers they fund. Many contract researchers are denied the right to apply for research grants in their own name, a policy that leaves them unable to take charge of their careers.

The Roberts Review's proposals are disappointing. It fails to appreciate the demoralisation of contract researchers and its solutions simply address symptoms not causes.

Successive Governments have failed to recognise that allocating its research funding in short grants creates instability in the research base. Research funding in the UK needs to be balanced, regardless of the level of expenditure.

We need imaginative solutions challenging the way research is managed in universities and its relationship to teaching. The higher education review must provide solutions that embrace all the staff employed in universities.

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Prepared 20 November 2002