Examination of Witness (Questions 137-139)|
WEDNESDAY 3 JULY 2002
ROBERTS, Author of SET for Success
(the Roberts Review), Chairman of the Research Careers Initiative,
Chairman of the HEFCE Research Committee and President of Wolfson
College, Oxford, examined.
Chairman: Nice to see you again, Sir Gareth.
You have been in front of this Committee before several times.
We see you on the circuit quite often. Your name has been taken
in vain as the man who has attempted to address this problem and
has presented a report to the Government, so I wondered if we
could cross-question you on it and I apologise for the lateness
of this session.
137. You have heard the line of questioning
this afternoon, Sir Gareth. What is your impression of that? Did
you feel that there really is a need for even more drastic change
than you envisaged in your report following what you have heard
(Sir Gareth Roberts) I first of all have to say which
hat do I have on? I have of course the Chairman of the Research
Careers Initiative hat on to a large extent in speaking this afternoon
and I do have a pack here which includes the last progress report
from the RCI. The final report will come through about October
time probably and I would like to say something about the progress
that has been made since the initiative was started in 1997. I
have also included in the pack some latest information about a
major project which I initiated when I was Vice Chancellor in
Sheffield, a major HEFCE-funded project of about a quarter of
a million pounds. The dissemination of this work will take place
on 12 July, next week in fact, so there is also some indication
there of the progress that has been made. I think it is fair to
say that the RCI group, if I can call it that, has been disappointed"frustrated"
I think is a better wordwith the pace and scale of the
change. We can monitor to some extent the experiences of the contract
researchers by looking at the end of grant questionnaires when
the research councils compile them. It did look until about a
year ago that, just as the Royal Academy of Engineering has said,
it was almost as if we had plateau-ed. A tremendous impact I think
in the first two or three years and then we had plateau-ed. I
am pleased to say that the very latest figures really show tangible
improvement. There are three reasons behind this. One is the dripping
tap pressure that the RCI and the hundred co-ordinators that we
have now in the universities has applied. The other, and probably
the primary, reason is the EC directive that we have heard about
this afternoon. That really will have a tangible effect in universities.
Thirdly, and, as you probably know, I chair HEFCE's Research Committee,
we are adamant that in future we will insist that universities
have a human resource strategy in place if they wish to receive
their full research grant. As you probably know via the RAE, there
is this algorithm where you get 0.1 for a research fellow and
0.15 for a research student. What we are seriously considering
is that that component of the QR funding from the funding council
should not be awarded to institutions if they cannot demonstrate
that they are managing not just contract researchers but young
research students, young lecturers, in a good way. I really do
feel that that stick from the funding councils will make a tremendous
difference, coupled with the EC directive, and, as I say, the
rather subtle pressure that has been going on within institutions
for two or three years now.
138. Do you not think there is a potential problem
in universities with the new directive, that they may use it as
an excuse to shed people after four years to stop them going on
for more than four years because of the potential for redundancy
liabilities and so forth?
(Sir Gareth Roberts) I think most universities have
now abandoned that redundancy waiver that we talked about. Certainly
the ones that I am associated with have abandoned that some time
ago. It was interesting hearing some of the researchers earlier
today and I really am disappointed that they have had such a bad
experience because I know that there are many of those 39,000
who have really had a good experience and it is a pity you did
not hear some of those experiences today. There are in my view
great merits in this three trajectory approach that I mention
in my report. There are many people who stay on to do research
because it is convenient to complete a PhD, for example, but I
am referring to people who have been within an institution for
a year or two. I think a decision has to be made at that point.
Is there a strong likelihood that that student will become a good
university lecturer? Is that person better suited to leave the
university world and go off to the world of business or industry?
Or perhaps is there a special research associate role that they
can play within the university? I do not think there has been
enough honesty in the system, to be truthful. What you tend to
have are principal investigators who have a very competent researcher
who is doing some excellent research work in many ways but deep
in their hearts I think some of the supervisors know that they
are not as good as some of the other potential academics that
they have in their groups and I really do feel that we need more
honesty in the system and so heads of department, principal investors,
need to have these good appraisal meetings with contract researchers,
really good heart-to-heart discussions to say, "It does not
look as if you really are perhaps quite as good as others",
or perhaps, "In your area of research we are not developing
that area quite as much as you had hoped".
139. How would you measure that?
(Sir Gareth Roberts) I think all universities will
have a research strategy within a faculty, within a school. It
should be fairly clear the areas in which people want to develop
their research. This is particularly true of course in science,
engineering and medicine but rather different in the arts and
humanities where people tend to dig in deep in their research.
I am referring more to the team type approach. We heard about
the benefits of size. If you have a large research group I think
there is no excuse whatever not to have a certain tier of open
ended contract researchers and I have to say I do not like that
name. We ought to move to the name "research fellow",