Memorandum submitted by The Royal Society
The Royal Society of Chemistry [RSC] welcomes
the Science and Technology Committee's short inquiry into "Short-term
research contracts in science and engineering".
The RSC believes that the issues under consideration
are important contributory factors in ensuring that the UK has
a "premier league" science and engineering base on which
to build future economic success.
Employment as a post-doctoral research assistant
in a university is part of the training of a research scientist
and as such should be viewed as an apprenticeship. UK universities
need these talented people in order to carry out research and
in turn those who under take this work are well placed to move
on to academic posts, or to industry.
From the chemistry point of view, UK universities
are a success. In the recent Research Assessment Exercise the
improvements in the quality and range of chemical science research
were significant and a tribute to the efforts of our first class
internationally renowned leaders in the field, their students
and research associates. Excellence in science and engineering
demands a first rate infrastructure and a well motivated and rewarded
cadre of practitioners.
The RSC has welcomed the recent investment in
the university research infrastructure by the Government in collaboration
with the Wellcome Trust. In responses to other consultations,
most recently the Roberts' Enquiry, the RSC has made the strong
case that while the investment so far is welcome, more longer
term investment in the research and teaching infrastructure in
Higher Education is needed if our world class scientists and students
are to have the facilities and support to do justice to their
creative talents and to provide a conducive working environment.
Only through long term continuous investment will the UK be able
to build, support and develop the high added value knowledge economy
that the UK needs and the Government aims to provide.
The RSC has already welcomed the excellent Roberts'
Report that highlights the major issues that need to be addressed
and looks forward to the implementation of the many recommendations.
Through this short enquiry the Committee is focusing on the key
issue of how the UK supports and nurtures its talented and innovative
It is critical that the scientific appreciation
of science and engineering pervades all aspects of the UK economy.
For this reason the RSC welcomes the science graduates that enter
careers outside of science. At the same time the RSC believes
that it is critical that sufficient of our talented scientists
remain within the science employment fields and that innovation
and creativity is supported in Higher Education.
A significant number of science graduates go
on to study for research degrees and then to further post doctoral
studies in the hope and anticipation of pursuing an academic career.
All parties recognize that universities are facing the demographic
issue of an aging academic community, due to the rapid expansion
of the sector in the 1960s. The need to replenish those who are
about to retire and continuously re-invigorate the UK academic
community is paramount and so it is important that we treat well
those who do take post doctoral posts so that new academics are
the best and that they are well trained and motivated.
Some science graduates will choose to undertake
post doctoral positions whatever the conditions or pay, such is
their dedication to the subject and their desire for an academic
career. Others at the end of their doctoral studies will be made
attractive offers of employment outside of academia. A key issue
for the Committee's deliberations is to ensure that those in the
former situation are not exploited while those in the second category
make decisions based upon positive and not negative reasons. If
the future for the doctoral student offers only poor remuneration,
an uncertain futureno guarantee of short-to-medium term
security, minimum career development or opportunities for careers
guidance, the burden of paying off the student loan and only the
faintest hope of an academic position, then the only the most
dedicated will find this prospect attractive. Most will seek opportunities
The RSC has evidence from research that it has
recently carried out that in chemistry that females are more likely
than males to opt for a career outside of academia.
This issue is not just about Higher Education.
Students in schools and colleges are affected by what they see
happening in Higher Education and decide that they will study
science but very few opt for a long term career in the sector.
What goes on in Higher Education is connected to the major finding
in the Roberts' Report that employers of science and engineering
graduates must attract the talented and able people that they
need. However, because employers operate in a transparent marketplace,
employees know about the variety of salary packages, career support,
career challenges, training packages and opportunities for career
advancement on offer across the economy. To get the bestthe
most talented and able scientists and engineersemployers
need to offer employment opportunities that match or supersede
those on offer elsewhere. Higher Education needs to view its staff,
including those on short term contracts, in the same way.
The RSC recognizes that employing staff on short
term contracts offers the opportunity to promote mobility between
research groups across the world. Post doctoral positions play
a vital role in facilitating scientific collaboration, enable
researchers to develop their own research topics and theories
before securing an academic position or a job in industry. However,
the researchers should have access to the full training and support
facilities [including access to the institution's careers service]
available to other university staff, proper line management, mentoring
and supervision during their tenure. Opportunities to extend their
skills, such as those proposed by Imperial College [to send their
post doctoral researchers into schools] are a welcomed innovation.
Access to careers advice is essential to guide these talented
people as they build their careers, which for many, will be outside
A VOUCHER SCHEME
The RSC welcomed the commitment by the former
CEO of the EPSRC, Professor Sir Richard Brook, when he was still
in office for the piloting of post doctoral equivalents of the
hugely successful Research Councils Graduate Schools. Four such
schools were run as pilots but the RSC is aware that in eighteen
months there has been little follow-up. The RSC believes that
all post doctoral workers should be given a voucher of specific
monetary value entitling them to buy courses of approved training,
such as those offered by organisations like Careers Research and
Advisory Centre (CRAC), or in-house by individual Universities
or groups of Universities. Such training should be in addition
normal induction offered to staff by Universities and should aim
to encourage this talented group of highly educated individuals
to realise their talents for their own self-fulfilment and for
the benefit of the UK.
Many researchers on short term contracts carry
out vital work in Higher Education. It is not possible to come
up with some simplistic formulaic ratio for short-term contract
staff to permanent research staff. Appropriate ratios will vary
between disciplines. What is clear is that the current arrangements
have led to too many short-term researchers. Longer term research
grants and more sustained investment in Higher Education will
allow the sector to plan its staffing requirements better and
to ensure that short term contact are seen as attractive to the
most able and talented individuals. The RSC recognizes that developments
such as the Concordat and the Research Careers Initiative have
been introduced but both have had only minimal impact on the sector.
The RSC believes that the way forward is the
funding and implementation of the findings from the Roberts' Review;
more sustained investment in the infrastructure to improve the
working environment; longer term funding commitments to enable
Higher Education to plan better its staffing requirements; and
a commitment by Higher Education to offer attractive salary packages,
career support, career challenges, training packages and opportunities
for career advancement that match those on offer in the wider
The Royal Society of Chemistry is the UK Professional
Body for chemical scientists and an international Learned Society
for the chemical sciences with 46,000 members world-wide. It is
a major international publisher of chemical information, supports
the teaching of the chemical sciences at all levels and is a leader
in bringing science to the public. Reg Charity 207890
1 July 2002