Memorandum submitted by AmicusManufacturing,
Science and Finance Section
If the RAE is to continue, we believe that the
following requirements should be introduced:
Incentives should be introduced for
maintaining infrastructure and the assessment should be expanded
to include the level and quality of technical support for higher
Measures should be introduced to
improve on the job security and career prospects of research and
support staff grades.
Sustained improvements in the quality
of research can only be achieved if adequate funding is made available
and financial rewards for excellence and improved ratings should
Incentives for longer term investment
need to be provided.
Manufacturing, Science and Finance (MSF) is
a trade union with a large proportion of its membership working
in Science, Engineering and Technology across both the public
and private sectors. We represent researchers and support staff
in higher education and MSF members also work in the National
Health Service, Medical Research Council, pharmaceutical industry
and industrial research & development establishments.
We believe that the following areas should be
considered when investigating the effectiveness of the Research
Assessment Exercise (RAE) on UK research:
(i) Provision of adequate support staff and
(ii) Career security for research staff
(iii) The Quality of University Based Research
(iv) The ability to provide for long term
The provision of adequate infrastructure, equipment,
and support services is essential to world-class research.
The preliminary findings of a consultation paper
commissioned by the Office of Science and Technology and Higher
Education Funding Councils in September 20011 concluded that a
large number of institutions needed to improve on space, equipment
and technical support in order to carry out leading edge research
and attract external funding.
A recent Royal Society report2 also cast doubt
on the quality of technical support and referred to the need for
universities to improve technical support by reversing the cut
backs in highly skilled technicians and reducing the number of
short term contracts (currently 26 per cent of technicians are
on short term contractssource: the Bett Report).
This current situation has been brought about
by progressive under funding over a number of years, this is largely
due to three factors:
The increase in research activity
encouraged by the RAE has not been matched by increases in funding
from the Research Councils and research projects sponsored by
medical charities do not cover infrastructure and support service
The true support costs associated
with a research project are often not claimed due to a widespread
perception amongst researchers that only the cheapest grants will
be successful in winning funds.
In order to achieve improved RAE
ratings, departments have been under considerable pressure to
use funds awarded as indirect costs to increase research activity
instead of maintaining infrastructure and support services.
If the RAE is to continue, incentives should
be introduced for maintaining infrastructure and the assessment
should be expanded to include the level and quality of technical
support for higher education research.
An unacceptably high proportion of researchers
and technical staff are employed on fixed-term contracts and it
is not unusual in the higher education sector for contract research
staff to spend their entire career with the uncertainty of future
funding and employment hanging over them. High levels of stress
are prevalent and many skilled support staff and talented researchers
have been driven through either lack of funding or health concerns
to leave research.
Research assistants are increasingly required
to carry out the work of technical grades due to the reduction
in support staff numbers leading to an inefficient use of research
time, a waste or poor usage of often expensive equipment, and
Security of employment is also important in
scientific terms because this brings about continuity and the
development of teamworking between scientific workers that has
been a proven vital ingredient of successful research programmes.
Contract research staff are employed by Higher
Education Institutions on funds provided by the Research Councils
and neither accepts responsibility for providing a degree of employment
We welcome the introduction of the legislation
on Short-Term Contract Staff which will place a ceiling on the
number of years a member of staff may be employed on short-term
contracts, but we are concerned that in the absence of secure
funding there will still be the potential for abuse eg short breaks
The Bett Report also referred to the need to
improve the salaries and career prospects of university technicians.
Attempts by institutions to address concerns regarding the careers
of scientific workers have concentrated on academic grades, further
downgrading the contribution of technical grades.
We believe that if the RAE is to continue, measures
must be introduced to improve on the job security and career prospects
of research and support staff grades.
The RAE has been successful as an incentive
to increased research activity in the UK. However, this has been
achieved in part by the use of funds transferred to the Research
Councils in 1992 and originally intended to finance research support
Valuable research time is lost due to the administration
involved in preparing grant submissions and evaluating research
We are also concerned that the system discriminates
against those departments and institutions attempting to build
a research reputation. A cyclic process is emerging whereby the
RAE determines the amount of research funding from other bodies
and the research carried out with this funding determines the
Sustained improvements in the quality of research
can only be achieved if adequate funding is made available and
if the RAE is to continue, financial rewards for excellence and
improved ratings should be guaranteed.
The RAE has encouraged institutions to focus
on short-term planning, but there is also a need to be able to
plan for longer term research programmes than Research Council
grants currently provide for.
The lack of research funds over recent years
has forced research groups and institutions to make short-term
decisions about funding at the expense of long-term planning.
As a result the jobs of many technical and support staff were
axed and valuable skills lost that will be very expensive to replace.
If the RAE is to continue, an incentive for
longer term investment needs to be provided.
1 Under-Investment in University Research Infrastructure
Consultation Paper J M Consulting Ltd.
2 Technical and Research Support in the Modern
Laboratory Royal Society
18 January 2002