Select Committee on Science and Technology Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the University of East Anglia


  1.1  The University of East Anglia (UEA) admitted its first undergraduate students in 1963 and, in the last academic year 13,180 students were registered, including 3,300 postgraduate students. As at March 2002, 1853 students were registered in the Science Schools for first degrees, together with 563 postgraduate students. The University has more than 1,700 non-UK students from over 100 countries. It offers many evening and day courses in locations throughout the region. It employs around 2,300 staff.

  1.2  The University enjoys an international reputation for high quality research and teaching in a wide variety of subject areas. The 2001 Research Assessment Exercise confirmed its place among international research-led universities, with 11 subject areas achieving 5 or 5* ratings, including at least half of the academic staff and four of the five Science Schools.

  1.3  The research activities of the University are complemented by our involvement in the Norwich Research Park, which was formed to promote and enhance collaborative links between UEA, the John Innes Centre (including the Sainsbury Laboratory) and the Institute of Food Research Norwich Laboratory. With 1,500 science staff and more than 500 postgraduate students, the Norwich Research Park constitutes one of Europe's largest centres for the study of plant, microbial and food sciences, health, agriculture and the environment. We understand that evidence may be supplied separately from the NRP.

  1.4  The authors are members of the University's Executive Team, with responsibility for the University's research direction, the management of its Science Schools and of its human resources and academic infrastructure. Jointly, they have experience of academic careers in science, including responsibility for managing research teams or highly specialised services. They have also contributed to national debates and been invited to give evidence to the government.


  2.1  The University's response to the 1996 Research Concordat extended beyond its immediate implementation of a Code of Practice into active support of the work of the Research Careers Initiative. It rapidly introduced its pioneering scheme to transfer long-serving research staff to indefinite appointments, where the prospects for future funding justified this action. The removal of the end date from such appointments was motivational but not unproblematic, due to the necessity of bidding for salaries by senior researchers, as described later in this submission.

  2.2  The University also introduced in 2002 contingency funds to permit the promotion of contract research staff in cases where the existing grants do not allow this (such as awarded by bodies which were not signatories to the Research Concordat). It has also established a contingency fund for brief periods of bridging support between grants. This second fund is designed to allow the continuity of employment of key staff for whose further support grant applications remain under active consideration by funding bodies up to the expiry date of the current contract of employment.


  3.1  The Committee will be well aware of the view of the Roberts Report that "entering the environment of postdoctoral research work is an uncertain and, for many, unattractive prospect" (0.48). This is a view with which UEA agrees, as we do with the reasons set out by Sir Gareth Roberts for the unattractiveness of such work. We see no reason, however, why the barriers of lack of training and career prospects should not be overcome by HEIs if funding were available to provide the resources and pay for the time needed for CRS to attend to strengthen the skills necessary to apply successfully for posts in academia as well as other sectors where employers have been critical of graduate and post-doctoral applicants. But in our view, it is not simply a matter of introducing a requirement for HEIs to make such provision as a condition of success in applying for research funding. Our own estimated costs for introducing a training and career development programme is some £12,000 per annum for 100 places. Our current total of CRS is 368: other HEIs will employ far greater numbers, with consequential increases. This amount is not large in itself, but needs to be seen in the context of increasing demands placed on our HR budget in order to respond to equal pay audits, improving gender gaps, complying with the Race Relations (Amendment) Act and other legislation which places terms and conditions of employment on an equal footing. The cost of employment generally continues to rise.

  3.2  Greater security in the provision of external funding, together with longer duration of grants, will permit institutions to consider seriously and to offer some limited career posts such as Scientific Officer or even their own Research Fellowships. Additional funding will also permit HEIs to address the barriers to retaining women scientists during or after a period of family formation. These include absence from research activity and its consequential effect on curricula vitae, loss of contact with developments in subject areas and new skills, and salary levels in relation to the cost of childcare.

  3.3  We would, therefore, like to see a clear distinction between short-term posts suitable and available for newly-qualified post-doctoral researchers, with funding available to employing institutions to allow this group to receive adequate career development training, including transferable skills, to permit them to move on successfully. Such funding would also include an element of time to allow researchers to undertake such training. Funding should be available to pay for time needed to apply for new grants. At present, these are prepared, almost without exception, "out of hours", regularly creating long hours at work. Women in particular comment that they "cannot imagine having children and being able to do the job [I have]", or about being "almost desperate about having to make a choice between family and career".

  3.4  If these two changes came about, it would be possible (and expected) for universities to plan longer-term career paths for those researchers for whom it is mutually beneficial that they remain in university research. As a senior researcher has commented, "Any laboratory requires some long- term employees to create continuity (teach methodology, etc) which is vital to any research effort, and help prevent "re-inventing the wheel" as new people come in".

  3.5  We wish to take this opportunity to state that promotion criteria, with their emphasis on publications, in the main driven by the requirements of the Research Assessment Exercise, are detrimental to women during the early part of their careers, when they are establishing their own research.


  4.1  Our observations and experience lead us to conclude that the present funding model supports only a cohort of jobbing researchers. This is the final deterrent on a path into Science, Engineering and Technology, the unattractiveness of which has been amply described in the Roberts Report. The lack of sufficiently attractive jobs must contribute to the decreasing number of graduates continuing in education—in all sectors—and thus exacerbate the decline in these subjects. Conversely, the contribution to science of researchers with security of employment is demonstrably significant in terms of effective and efficient research. We are heartened that such extensive discussion of the problem is taking place at high levels.


  5.1  The following information is based on responses made to us by senior managers of the University, individual grantholders and contract researchers. Also by reference to surveys carried out by UEA or in which the University has participated (listed at end) and to information collected in response to other initiatives currently in train (and mainly addressed at women's issues). We have taken the opportunity to append a report presented to the Higher Education Staff Development Association on the first year of operation of the network of women scientists on contracts, and draw the Select Committee's attention particularly to paragraphs 15 and 16 on page 4 of that Report which describe the findings of the survey carried out by the network in 2000.

5.2  Does the preponderance of short-term research contracts really matter? Why?

  5.2.1  The availability of post-doctoral appointments for a normal minimum duration of three years is helpful to recently qualified postdoctoral researchers, since such posts serve a dual purpose to CRS themselves. They provide valuable work experience as well as an opportunity to undertake further research in a particular area of science. The increased number of such posts which have become available in science during the last five years is to be welcomed, and we hope this will continue.

  5.2.2  These posts are highly suitable for the "job entrants" and "career starters", to use Sir Gareth Roberts' classification. But, for this reason, and in spite of the welcome volume of available posts, these remain on the periphery of research careers. The preponderance provides no career structure and acts as a deterrent to those who aim for a career in academic research, yet do not seek a career as an academic.

  5.2.3  For newly qualified post-doctoral researchers, the effective period of "productive work" is reduced during the first and last six months of the contract, as they work themselves in and seek their next post, respectively.

5.3  What are the implications for researchers and their careers?

  5.3.1  As well as the concern registered above with respect to lack of career structure, we are also concerned that the forthcoming Fixed Term Regulations will discourage, if not prevent, the sector from providing continuing work for a further three year period. Our experience is that the development of independent enquiry requires a minimum period of five years, and the difficulty over renewing a contract will damage the work of the grantholder (or principal investigator) and the individual junior researchers. It is also likely to halt UEA's programme of reviewing researchers who have served six years, with a view to transferring to indefinite appointments on the basis of future funding prospects. The resulting enforced mobility, particularly in relatively remote centres such as Norwich, has a particularly adverse impact on women scientists. We believe that the result will be further discouragement to researchers to apply to UEA.

  5.3.2  The level of starting salary awarded by research grants is often at the bottom end of the salary scale which makes it difficult to appoint more experienced researchers, including those capable of project managing research programmes.

5.4  Is there evidence that the present situation causes good researchers to leave?

  5.4.1  UEA is reviewing the evidence which suggests that its turnover among research staff between 1997 and 2001, inclusive, has increased individual respondents had direct experience of or knew of colleagues who had staff who left to go into the private sector or abroad before the end of a project. Resignations occur typically within the last 12 months of a post, causing difficulties with the final phase of research and with reports and other means of disseminating results.

5.5  What would be the right balance between contract and permanent research staff in universities and research institutions?

  5.5.1  We would suggest that at least one permanent post be available within the majority of established research groups, for example, a Research Manager, with responsibility for the use of specialist equipment as well as staff and student supervision and the day-to-day operation of a laboratory. This post would probably be located on the RAII scale. But it requires genuine additional funding, possibly by allowing for the inclusion of charges for this provision in the permitted costs for research projects or providing sufficient level of overheads.

5.6  Has the Concordat and the Research Careers Initiative made any difference?

  5.6.1  They have been most welcome in raising the profile of this large group (ca. 40,000 in any one year) of highly-skilled and qualified researchers, but not all funding bodies were signatories. The RCI has been an effective and influential vehicle for disseminating good practice. Also welcome is the developmental work undertaken on career "toolkits" for example, which are shortly to be launched through a HEFCE-funded initiative.

  5.6.2  Our experience with respect to their impact on funding is of inconsistency among signatories in meeting the aims of the Concordat. Where funding bodies are not signatories then there can be further cost to an employer. An example would be the European Union, which does not provide for work to be placed in abeyance nor does it pay maternity pay for women employed on its research grants. The current difficulties with research council grant rounds is unsettling, even if likely to be for unique reasons.

5.7  How should the policy move forward?

  5.7.1  Core funding is needed for the introduction of a career structure and for training and career development for the majority of CRS who would move on anyway at the end of the first post-doctoral contract.

  5.7.2  Funding or grant application rules should be revised in such a way as to permit more senior researchers to bid for their own salaries. In this way, greater security can be offered. The Select Committee may wish to note that grants from the EU already permit this, while those from some of the UK Research Councils do not.

  5.7.3  High flyers in research do not all seek to become lecturers. Our survey in 2000 reported that the majority of our CRS find job satisfaction in dedicated research careers and seek to remain in such employment. Senior CRS therefore need to be able to bid for and win funding to support their own salaries. This is not currently provided for uniformly, including even signatories to the Concordat.

  5.7.4  The retention of researchers who have completed their first post-doctoral post contributes significantly to the effective and efficient completion of research projects, due regard being paid to performance management policies.

  5.7.5  We have also been asked to record the concern expressed by our academic and our contract research staff at the time required to make grant applications. This has come to constitute almost an additional job of work.

  5.7.6  Overhead levels are insufficient to maintain an infrastructure for research. We do not propose to labour this point, as it has been amply described in the recently published Transparency Review.


  Surveys carried out at UEA and referred to above:

  2000 All CRS at UEA and the Norwich Research Park.

  2001 Two surveys conducted in the School of Biological Sciences as part of individual qualifications (diploma in management and PGCE).

  2002 Participation in the Contract Research staff online survey (pilot)—published in March 2002.

  Survey of science and technology final year undergraduates at UEA into career choices.

21 June 2002

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