Supplementary memorandum submitted by
Research Councils UK (RCUK)
1. Four Councils employ research staff directly
in their own institutes and facilities. What are these Councils
doing to minimise the use of fixed-term contracts?
As stated in the RCUK response to the inquiry,
the Research Councils believe that the employment of contract
research staff and the concept of early career mobility are essential
components of public funding of leading edge creative science.
Having a high proportion of such staff can be an issue. The MRC,
as an employer, has therefore limited its use of fixed term contracts
to post doctoral researchers at early stages in their careers,
historically allowing individuals to be funded through short-term
contracts for no more than six years. These posts are treated
as training posts and all MRC employed post-doctoral researchers
receive training in both core scientific skills as well as generic
transferable skills. The majority of all other MRC employees working
in its Institutes and Units are placed on open-ended contracts
at the end of probationary periods. In 1996 MRC introduced a tenure
track scheme for some postdoctoral researchers in order to improve
career development opportunities for this category of staff. In
line with the EU Directive on Fixed Term Contracts (FTCs), MRC
will focus the use of fixed-term contracts to three-year career
establishment/trainee appointments for new postdoctoral researchers.
CCLRC currently makes very limited use of fixed-term
contracts for researchers, precisely because it are already considering
carefully at the outset whether a permanent appointment can be
made. Only where it is judged that there is a serious risk the
CCLRC will not have work for the person at the end of the fixed-term
does it offer a fixed-term contract. This tends to be the case
where the work is of a quite specific nature and is linked to
specific and time-limited funding. Even then, CCLRC will consider
whether there is a reasonable prospect that other funded work
will have been secured by the end of the contract, and where it
is judged that there is a reasonable prospect, it will offer a
BBSRC currently employs some 1,700 research
and research support staff, just over half of whom are currently
Guidance was issued in May 2002, advising Institutes
to phase out FTCs except for the following circumstances allowed
by the Fixed-term Contract Regulations:
a temporary appointment of less than
one year, where there is little or no prospect of a renewal or
career-track contracts (where these
cover for career breaks, maternity,
sick absence or training cover;
postdoctoral training schemes (where
these are used); and
approved Government or EU training
schemes (eg Modern Apprenticeships and Marie Curie Fellowships).
Subject to the exceptions listed above, all
BBSRC-sponsored institutes have already announced that they will
not be using FTCs in the future. Existing FTCs are being reviewed,
and some staff B notably in science support areas B are being
transferred to indefinite contracts. However, the cost of transferring
all existing FTC staff to indefinite appointments is prohibitive
and existing redundancy compensation waiver clauses will be applied
unless further funding can be identified or suitable redeployment
The BBSRC Redeployment and Redundancy procedures
have been revised, with the full agreement of the Trade Unions,
to facilitate consultation (with both FTC staff and Trade Unions)
in a redundancy situation and to ensure that all redeployment
opportunities are identified and investigated. Guidance on redundancy
selection criteria has been improved to ensure that FTC staff
are not indirectly discriminated against in a redundancy situation.
Institute Human Resource managers have received coaching in the
In the longer term, Institutes will be expected
to ensure that training and re-skilling in technical, generic
and transferable skills is optimised in order to encourage redeployment
of research staff when funding ceases or requirements for specialist
expertise diminish. It is also envisaged that applications for
funding will increasingly be framed around the knowledge and skills
of existing postdoctoral research staff.
NERC recently organised a full day seminar involving
all Research Councils, OST, HEFCE and some Universities to consider
the implications of both recent legislation and the Roberts report.
One outcome of this has been a revised NERC policy on the use
The vast majority of staff appointed on a fixed-term
basis in NERC have historically been scientific research staff.
The new policy gives the strongest possible steer that unless
there are genuine, short-term business requirements in appointing
staff on a fixed-term basis, then individuals should be appointed
to permanent contracts. Although the policy takes account of the
new legislation in this area (ie The Fixed Term Employees [Prevention
of Less Favourable Treatment] Regulations 2002), the Roberts Review
has also influenced NERC's thinking in terms of how best to manage
and develop these staff so that they can play a more flexible
role in NERC's future but also to enable them to make future contributions
to the UK science and technology base more generally.
This policy builds on work NERC has carried
out over the last three or so years since the EU Regulations first
came out, through which NERC has encouraged its Scientific Directors
to reconsider their use of FTCs as a business tool. This has been
reflected by a drop in the use of FTCs from 23 per cent of staff
in March 1999 to 6 per cent in August 2002.
NERC is now addressing some of the issues which
arise from a reduced use of FTCs in its laboratories. These include
the need for better performance management, the requirement to
build on existing work on career development, and the need to
find other ways of ensuring that its science receives the revitalisation
offered by regular injections of "new blood".
2. What actions have the Councils taken to
improve the conditions and security of contract researchers funded
under research council grants? What features of research council
grants enable universities to take a more long-term view of researcher
Employers of research staff, not funders of
research, are responsible for their management and their terms
and conditions of employment. All of the councils are committed
to their funding policies being in accordance with the principles
laid down in the 1996 Concordat on Contract Research Staff, which
recognises the need for more attention to be given to the career
development and training of research staff, and encourage the
recipients of their funding to implement the Concordat's requirements.
In terms of salary costs, the councils allow
grant applicants to seek funds to meet the higher costs of a more
experienced researcher where the research project requires it.
In many cases where this occurs the research officer is named
on the application and the councils would normally meet the salary
level requested unless the project clearly requires a lower level
The MRC and ESRC allow non established members
of staff to apply for grants in their own right and to request
payment of their salaries on a research award. NERC intends to
introduce such provision next year and is currently working on
the detail of how this will be implemented. The other councils
do not currently permit this. Each council has considered this
issue carefully in the context of its own strategy, the nature
of the research it supports and the size and nature of its particular
research community. The reasons for not permitting applicants
to request their salary include a view that applicants for grants
need to have reached a demonstrable level of competence in their
research careers; that other schemes such as fellowships offer
funding opportunities for new researchers wishing to pursue a
career in academia; and, that the volume of applications would
be such that overall success rates would become unacceptably low.
All of the councils operate fellowship schemes
offering support at different stages of a researcher's career.
All councils provide fellowship opportunities for new researchers
seeking a career in academia.
All councils (except CCLRC) offer awards of
varying duration through their responsive grants schemes normally
up to a maximum of five years. Over half of the MRC's support
for grants is in the form of five-year grants, most of which are
renewable. PPARC funds a number of four year rolling grants, which
are designed to enable key university groups to plan and pursue
a co-ordinated programme of research over a longer timeframe.
A pilot is being introduced this year by EPSRC whereby groups
that continually have a large portfolio of (typically three year)
research grants will have these consolidated into a single grant
of typically five years duration. One consequence of this will
be to enable universities to give greater certainty of employment
to individual researchers within such a group. Some councils also
provide targeted longer term funding, for example the ESRC supports
research centres for a maximum of 15 years.
In terms of other specific initiatives, the
following are examples of action taken recently to promote good
The EPSRC has extended the principle of the
Research Councils' Graduate Schools programme to contract research
staff and is producing a career development training resources
pack for use by universities, which it intends to make freely
available to the university sector in Autumn 2002.
In terms of career mobility and knowledge transfer,
it is also important to encourage and facilitate the movement
of trained researchers into industry and other sectors. One example
of this is EPSRC's Research Assistants Industry Secondment scheme
(RAIS). RAIS provides a fourth year of support for post-doctoral
research assistants working on collaborative research projects,
to spend this year in the collaborating company, or within spin
out companies, transferring the technology developed in the previous
three years in academia.
3. What are the research councils' views on
whether funders should include redundancy payments in grant applications?
The councils regard the university as the employer
and as such the university is responsible for staff contracts
of employment and for redundancy or other compensatory payments
which may arise. The support of research in universities has its
roots in the dual support funding arrangements for research in
universities. Whilst the boundaries of those arrangements shifted
in 1991-92 so that Research Councils undertook to fund the full
direct costs of grants and provide a contribution to departmental
overheads, it did not change the role of universities as employers
of researchers funded through grants.
Furthermore, the councils would not wish to
allow for provision such that redundancy would be encouraged as
this could be detrimental to the development of long-term employment
strategies for research staff in HEIs. The councils would instead
wish to encourage good management practices such that the need
to meet redundancy costs becomes exceptional.
4. Do the councils have any other comments
on the evidence submitted?
Regrettably in the time available it has not
been possible to produce a single RCUK response to the evidence