Memorandum submitted by the University
The University of Glasgow is pleased to respond
to the inquiry launched by the Science and Technology Committee,
considering short-term research contracts in science and engineering,
and would like to contribute the following points for consideration
by the Committee.
The University believes that the large increase
in the number of contract Research Staff in the Universities since
1992 is the direct and predictable result of the change in the
dual support funding system. Universities are chronically under-funded.
One of the very few ways open to increase income is to increase
the number of contract research staff, whose salaries carry a
modest 46 per cent overhead. Funding for equipment by contrast
comes from diminishing HEFC pots or is highly competitive (c.f.
JIF with a 10 per cent success rate) and carries penalties (such
as huge preparation costs for JIF, or demanding matching funding
from own resources, such as JREI).
Short-term contracts can form a valuable part
of career development for younger people such as recent PhDs.
A large fraction move successfully into permanent posts in academia
or elsewhere. Those remaining in University research posts in
the longer term are a mixture of the highly dedicated and the
less successful or less motivated.
All academic salaries are too low, especially
research salaries. We pay a scientist with seven years' training
£20K per annum. In Scotland, a train driver with one year's
experience earns £28K. There is no agreed seniority on the
pay scale conferred by having completed a PhD, even though financial
hardship is suffered whilst working for the PhD. All the financial
incentives are against undertaking a PhD and against remaining
The Concordat imposed expectations on the Universities
as employers but provided no resource. Recent legislation giving
acquired rights to researchers after four years of employment
has therefore focused managerial attention far more than the earlier
Concordat. There will be far reaching consequences:
Research Staff will on average become
(finally) 10 years older than at present and thereby more expensive
to employ. Research Councils customarily prefer to fund at lower
points on the salary scale. This has already left senior research
staff unfunded and unfundable. Universities that obey the concordat
properly will be at a disadvantage.
In the short term, quality of University
research will improve due to the retention of expertise and the
reduced cost of/need to recruit and retrain.
In the longer term the quality of
University research might fall due to lack of renewal by some
in the investment in skills for new techniques and subject areas.
The high degree of focusing of research staff offers less breadth
for development than academic posts that combine teaching, research
Contract Research Staff will still
be more vulnerable than academics funded out of core teaching
and research income, as the Research Councils must of necessity
fund that research which is the best value for money. Therefore
there will be a need both for bridging funding between external
contracts and for redundancy pay where the funded demand for work
in a speciality at a particular location (or overall) has diminished.
This is a new financial burden on Universities. Since their budgets
are already overstretched this can only come from an increase
in the 46 per cent overhead. We should welcome this even if it
trims the volume of research by a few percent. However, the Universities
cannot solve this without Research Council funds.
We should resist the temptation to get involved
in pooling surplus research staff to slot them into vacancies
in other Universities. This would become administratively burdensome
and may create a pool of people being moved around between employers.
The professional position of PhD Research Staff
in promoted grades needs to be enhanced. Universities need to
allow them to supervise research students. The Research Councils
need to find mechanisms to allow them to propose new work and
to act as Principal Investigators, which is already allowed by
19 June 2002