Select Committee on Science and Technology Eighth Report


The Science and Technology Committee has agreed to the following Report:



1. Around half of all science and technology researchers working in UK universities are employed on fixed-term contracts as contract research staff. We were concerned that this situation might undermine the productivity and enthusiasm of researchers and make a research career in science or engineering an unattractive option. We felt that this issue would have to be resolved if the quality and reputation of UK research in science, engineering and technology were to be maintained and if universities were to be the drivers of their local economies as the Government wished.

2. There have been a number of policy initiatives in recent years that have addressed this issue but we were concerned that the focus had been on managing the situation rather than tackling the underlying causes. We decided to conduct a short inquiry to identify some of the problems faced by contract researchers, scrutinise efforts made by Government and universities and suggest a productive way forward. While this inquiry will focus on researchers, we are aware that there are similar issues that apply to support staff, in particular technicians. We also appreciate that the flow of PhDs into research careers impacts on the issue but it is outside the scope of this inquiry.

3. The Committee received 87 submissions of written evidence and held a single oral evidence session on 3 July 2002, from contract researchers at various stages of their careers; the Association of University Teachers and NATFHE, the university and college lecturers' union; Universities UK; and Sir Gareth Roberts, President of Wolfson College, Oxford, Chairman of the Research Careers Initiative and author of a recent review for Government on the supply of scientists (the Roberts Review) . We are grateful to all those who have assisted with the inquiry, in particular to our Specialist Adviser, Professor Michael Elves, formerly Director of the Office of Scientific and Educational Affairs, Glaxo Wellcome plc.

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Prepared 20 November 2002