Memorandum submitted by the Equality Challenge
1. In Higher Education science research
there is a predominance of fixed-term staff, resulting from the
restricted funding streams competitively awarded per project.
2. Despite some improvements in recent years,
there remain significant differences between the treatment of
staff on fixed-term contracts and those on open-ended contracts.
These differences may be in relation to terms and conditions of
service and/or in relation to the integration into the general
culture and "business" of the Higher Education Institution
(HEI), leading to a feeling of exclusion (well-attested in qualitative
research), as well as actual exclusion from some of the formal
and informal opportunities available to other staff which may
be valuable for career and personal development.
3. Women and people from ethnic minorities
(which are, or course, overlapping groups) are disproportionately
represented amongst fixed-term contract staff in relation to the
rest of the HEI staff profile. This is a situation which tends
to increase the sense of isolation and difference referred to
in (2) above.
4. There are two major areas of concern
in relation to equal opportunities practices:
(a) the way in which the fixed-term appointments
are made, which are commonly by nomination and not through normal
good practice processes; and
(b) the on-going processes of objective managerial
support, including career development and provision of access
to scientific networks which are crucial in positioning the fixed-term
employee to obtain an open-ended contract, whether within the
HE sector or beyond.
The differential exercise of informal processes,
on which much still depends in the fixed-term (contract research)
arena, have differential effects on those who are perceived as
minority groups, ie ethnic minorities, as actual minorities within
the population at large; and women as "constructed minorities"
within what is still predominantly a male-dominated scientific
5. There is a strong "dominant culture"
effect in most areas of science, engineering and technology, which
has a differential impact on those who are not perceived (by themselves
and/or by others) as being part of that culture. This effect may
have an impact on those within the scientific world, already employed
on fixed-term contracts. It may also have an impact on those considering
entering such forms of employment, deterring them from committing
to such a career.
6. There is a recognised need for more scientists
in the UK, but if the problems of fixed-term employment are compounded
for major groups (notably women and ethnic minorities) by enhanced
feelings of isolation and a strong sense of being caught within
the less favourable employment context, the resulting "leaky
pipeline" leads to a loss for the UK as a whole.
7. The greatest source of improvement, which
would lead to a better return on initial investment, would be
some measure of change on the way science research is funded,
thus allowing for a greater proportion of open-ended contracts.
8. Work to carry forward the aims of the
Research Concordat initiative is in hand. This is clearly still
needed: a recent report, Academic Careers in Scotland, carried
out by the Institute for Employment Research, and funded by the
Scottish Higher Education Funding Council (publ. December 2001)
showed the extent to which:
professional development of fixed-term
staff needed to be improved;
considerable training was needed
to improve the human resource management skills of the relevant
The implication of these findings, however,
are that the restricted funds which finance most science research
must include within them explicit allocations of time and money
to meet the developmental needs of those managing and those being
managed. Progress will not be made if the resources are seen as
being "taken out" of the actual research funding.
9. Legislation will in theory soon deliver
some improvements, although the impact of the Fixed-Term Directive
on contract research staff is not yet certain and could, in some
instances, produce the adverse effect of a greater turnover of
staff, in contradiction to what the law intends.
10. The Funding Councils' commitment to
improved human resources stategies will provide a better employment
context for all staff.
24 June 2002