Memorandum submitted by Sir Gareth Roberts,
President of Wolfson College, Oxford, Chairman, Research Careers
Initiative and author of a recent report for Government on the
supply of supply of scientists
For the past five years I have chaired the Research
This was established by the Research Councils,
the Royal Society, the British Academy and UUK (CVCP as was) in
1997 to monitor the Concordat on Contract Research Career Management.
Since then the RCI Group has published three
progress reportsits final Report will be produced this
Five of the 37 Recommendations in my Report
"Set for Success" relate to employment in higher education
and contract researchers. I assume that you will be familiar with
To some extent I was guided in writing this
section of my Report by the recommendations of the 1995 House
of Lords Select Committee on Contract Research Staff.
It was in their view:
"Essential that Universities have sound
policies for the management of contract staff, including regular
and open assessment and appraisal".
"Universities should improve counselling,
career advice and retraining for contract staffin areas
which may be unrelated to academia".
"Universities should create longer-term
fellowships for the most able scientists".
There is no doubt that substantial progress
has been made in universities over the past five years but the
RCI Group has stated consistently that the pace and scale of change
need to be increased further to fully deliver our objectives.
When we wrote our last Report about a year ago
there were some indications that the improvement we had witnessed
since 1997 may have been levelling off. The "end of grant"
questionnaires provide useful data on, for example, the university's
policy statement on research staff what percentage receive
and act on this; the proportion of CRC receiving appraisal and
skills training etc.
However, at the RCI Conference in the spring
of this year we reported evidence showing that these performance
indicators had improved substantially over the past year.
In my view this is due to three factors. Firstly,
the increased pressure generated by the RCI Steering Group via
the 100 or so institutional coordinators now in place. Secondly,
the impending implementation of the EU Directive prohibiting the
extended use of fixed term appointments and finally, the likely
new approach by the Funding Councils to ask universities to submit
and develop human resource strategies before an element of their
research grant is released.
There are at least three critical success factors
involved in tackling this Research Careers Challenge.
Firstly, the contract researchers themselves
must take a more active interest in their own broad career development.
A Commonly observed problem is the mind-set of research staff
themselves and the need to encourage greater self-awareness and
self-help. Secondly, one must have a top down commitment inside
and outside institutions to staff management and development.
The policy and practice within institutions need to be better
tuned to match the diversity of the contract research population.
Differentiation involves distinguishing between high flyers en
route to academic careers and those who require a business or
industrial trajectory. Recommendations 5.3 in my Report SET for
Success emphasises this point. Thirdly, action must be taken to
promote a cultural change among those responsible for contract
research staffthe principal investigators and leaders who
build and manage research teams.
Substantial progress has been made on all three
fronts by the Sheffield-based team working on the large HEFCE
funded projects. Its findings will be disseminated at a Conference
in London on 12 July this year.
The project has involved 18 universities over
the past two years. The output will be available on an extensive
web-site to all institutions and stakeholders to download and
use. The outcomes will include career management tools, handbooks
for CRC and Principal Investigators on the transferability of
employment skills, guidance on appraisals and training materials
to support the use of the tools.
I know that their work has emphasised the need
for honesty at every state in the employment of CRC. Clearly,
better management leads to a better experience for all concerned.
I am very confident that now that we have the
threats of EU Legislation and Funding Council financial penalties,
the problems associated with short-term contract researchers will
My ambition, as Chairman of the Research Careers
Initiative is that later this year all the signatories to the
1996 Concordat will pledge themselves to a fresh Concordatone
that covers high level principles for human resource development
in research, covering not only CRC but all university staff from
postgraduates through to established academics.
3 July 2002