Memorandum submitted by Universities UK
and University and College Employers' Association (UCEA)
Universities UK and UCEA are pleased to submit
this memorandum to the Science and Technology Select Committee.
Contract research staff (CRS) play a key role in research activities
and it is vital that they are not disadvantaged particularly as
regards their terms and conditions of employment and arrangements
for their career management.
1. Over five years ago, in 1996, Universities
UK, together with the Research Councils, the Royal Society and
the British Academy, the Funding Councils and others recognised
that staff working on short fixed term contracts were at a significant
disadvantage with regard to their career structure, training,
and salary structure. We therefore agreed a Concordat to improve
conditions and set up the Research Careers Initiative (RCI) in
1997 to monitor and report on its implementation.
3. Those reports demonstrate significant
improvements year-on-year since 1997 particularly in changing
the perception and culture of CRS within the HEIs. The recently
published Roberts "SET for Success" report endorses
and echoes this state-of-play.
4. The situation is changing and will be
accelerated by a number of initiatives now taking place which
will reinforce the aims of the Concordat, push forward the agenda
for change, and will take forward the Concordat's objectives.
It has therefore been agreed that the RCI should conclude with
its final report in September 2002.
5. The outcome of Spending Review 2002 will
have an impact on CRS, particularly if the funding needs outlined
in the UUK submissionnamely to modernise pay structures,
enable recruitment and retention of top quality staff, and enhancement
of staff management, development and trainingare given
a high priority.
6. A major initiative is also underway through
the Funding Councils"People in Research"which
it is hoped will take forward the progress made thus far through
7. In parallel, the Regulations on fixed
term employees implementing the EU Directive on fixed term working
come into force in October 2002. UCEA has been working with university
personnel departments, the trade unions and the Department of
Trade and Industry to ensure a smooth and effective implementation
of the Directive. The Directive will reinforce Concordat aims
by strengthening the terms, conditions and rights of fixed-term
contract staff by improving human resources practice particularly
with regard to career management and development. It will also
require employers to move staff on such contracts to open-ended
arrangements unless there is good reason not to. The Directive
will apply to all fixed term staff, including CRS. There are cost
implications linked to the Directive.
8. Despite these developments, there is
some way to go before CRS have parity with their open-ended appointed
colleagues. HESA statistics published in the Roberts "SET
for Success", show that within an overall increase of CRS
posts between 1994-95 and 1999-2000, the greatest overall increase
has been in part-time CRS and posts occupied by women. There are
some anecdotal indications that these groups could be at particular
disadvantage on fixed term contracts.
9. With particular reference to the increasing
number of part-time posts and women employed on fixed term contracts,
it would be helpful if a specific study which focuses on CRS career
development issues for example attrition and promotion
ratesfor this group could be carried out.
10. Universities UK and UCEA would like
to see the moves towards improved parity between open-ended and
contract staff move forward effectively. The SR2002 settlement
could play a significant role in moving things along. We also
look to other initiatives such as HEFCE activities such as the
Higher Education Funding Councils' "People in Research"
initiative and the CRS On-line survey and through implementation
of the EU Directive on fixed term contracts to ensure that progress
11. Contract research staff have been a
key factor in the success of short term research projects and
longer term research reputations of institutions and have been
used to provide the necessary flexibility in response to the short
term nature of research project funding. The vast proportion of
research support comes in discrete pots of restricted funds, including
support for staffing.
12. The high number of fixed term contracts
within the sector is a consequence of the dual support system,
particularly the support given for research projects. It is a
reflection of the selectivity, which Universities UK supports.
13. Contract research staff have many different
career aspirations and needs. The Roberts Report identified three
broad types of CRS:
career starters (typically in their
first or second contract who enter contract research to gain experience
leading to a continuing academic position);
career researchers (who have worked
as CRS over a longer period of time and wish to remain in research);
job entrants (who may enter contract
research as a job but not explicitly to have a career in research).
14. Universities UK has consistently recognised
that CRS have been at disadvantage when compared with staff on
open-ended appointments, particularly with regard to career and
personal development, and has supported initiatives to ensure
that CRS are properly managed and receive career and developmental
support. We were one of the initial authors of the Concordat,
and we have maintained an active role in the Research Careers
Initiative which has tracked its progress over the past five years.
We are members of the RCI Steering Group, co-authors of the reports,
as well as being involved in the design and setting up of surveys,
conferences and similar to promote and monitor progress towards
achieving Concordat aims.
15. The main achievement of the Concordat
and the RCI over the past five years has been to directly change
the perception of CRS within HEIs and to encourage the development
of clear career structures based on the potential of the individual
contract researcher. Since the Concordat was agreed and the RCI
set up, there is evidence that conditions for CRS in HEIs have
16. The third interim RCI report published
in September 2001 comments on the continuing progress within universities
on introducing better induction and management for CRS and describes
commitment to the RCI and its principles as "universal".
A key finding from the RCI third interim report was the steady
progress towards parity of treatment with other staff in all the
support services. One notable example of this progress has been
the introduction of appraisal systems for CRS across the HEIs.
17. The final RCI report (due to be published
in September 2002) will summarise progress made since the Concordat
was first set up. It will also, however, emphasize that there
is still some way to go before CRS have parity with their open-ended
18. It is particularly pleasing to see both
the objectives and concerns which prompted the Concordat and the
setting up of the RCI were roundly endorsed in the HM Treasury
Roberts' Report "SET for Success", published in April
19. The Universities UK supports the findings
of the Roberts Review and looks to the outcome of SR2002 to implement
its findings, particularly with respect to CRS.
20. The outcome of Spending Review 2002
will have an impact on CRS, particularly if the needs outlined
in the Universities UK submissionnamely to modernise pay
structures, enable recruitment and retention of top quality staff,
and enhancement of staff management, development and trainingare
given a high priority.
21. Universities UK also looks to the Funding
Councils and the Research Councils to strengthen and translate
the Concordat aims by developing codes of practice. For example,
the Funding Councils' work on "People in Research" will
take forward aspects of the Concordat and we look towards that
initiative to reinforce and strengthen the Concordat aims, particularly
in the areas of career guidance, structure and management.
22. On the face of it, the effective implementation
of the Fixed Term Employees Regulations in October 2002 should
also provide further improvement in the employment conditions
of CRS. These will reinforce the good practice outlined in the
Concordat aims by ensuring parity of treatment with permanent
staff and reducing the potential disadvantages of remaining on
a series of fixed term contracts over a considerable period of
time. They will confirm the need for good Human Resources practice
in all aspects of employment and particularly in career development.
However, there is real concern among many universities, and among
CRS themselves, that an effect of restricting the overall length
of fixed-term contract employment will be to reduce rather than
increase opportunities for continuing employment, since there
can be no question of providing indefinite employment for all
research staff and because of the inevitable reluctance of institutions
to make large numbers of staff redundant. Consequently, the Regulations
will by no means be wholly beneficial in their effect.
23. A number of other initiatives have also
been inspired by the Concordat, such as the HEFCE-sponsored Contract
Research On-line Survey. This initiative is furthering the implementation
of the Concordat's objectives through the provision of CRS-generated
data on working conditions, career aspirations, and career development
opportunities and will provide further evidence of this sea change
24. Universities UK welcomes and supports
these developments as milestones in taking forward Concordat objectives.
OF CRS AND
25. It is difficult to place an exact figure
or number on the optimal level of CRS as this varies from project
to project, and department, school, and faculty, institution to
institution, and is dependent on funds available for research.
26. What is clear is that the overall number
of CRS has increased over the past five years, reflecting the
continuing growth in research activity in UK universities. From
statistics quoted in the recently published "SET for Success"
report, the overall number of CRS increased from just under 30,000
in 1994-95 to around 37,000 in 1999-2000. The just published 2002-01
figures show a further increase in posts to just over 39,000 posts.
27. These statistics also show within an
overall increase of 34 per cent between 1994-95 and 2000-01, the
overall percentage of male CRS has increased by about 20 per cent
during this period, while the percentage of women has leapt by
58 per cent. The table of data is at Annex 1.
28. The current rate of overall transfer
from CRS to open-ended appointment appears to be between 15-20
per cent, but there are no readily available or easily accessible
statistics on the situation for women, particularly longitudinal
data. As the proportion of women CRS increase, it is important
that they are not at further disadvantage with regard to promotion
either with regard to promotion within research grades or transfer
to the academic mainstream. HEIs are taking steps to guard against
this. However, there has not been a focused study undertaken to
provide conclusive evidence as to whether this is the case.
29. Specific statistics on attrition rates
by gender are also difficult to come by.
30. Also in terms of training and development,
it would be helpful to know whether women are differentially disadvantaged
by fixed term contract arrangements. A focused statistical analysis
of data on these issues is long overdue.
31. There has also been a significant increase
in the number of part-time CRS posts filled by both men and women,
and similar questions can be posed for this group.
EU DIRECTIVE ON
32. The proposed Regulations on Fixed-Term
will come into force in the UK on 1 October 2002.
33. The DTI has proposed that the EU Directive
on Fixed-Term Work will be implemented in the UK by the draft
Fixed-Term Employees (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment)
Regulations 2002. The DTI has carried out final consultation on
the draft regulations and universities await the final text as
approved by Parliament.
34. The purpose of the legislation is:
(i) to protect employees engaged on fixed-term
contracts from being treated less favourably than comparable employees
on indefinite contracts
(ii) to prevent the potential abuse of continuous
use of fixed-term contracts by limiting the overall duration of
a series of fixed-term contracts to four continuous years (after
1 October 2002) after which the contract automatically becomes
indefinite unless there is a justifiable objective reason for
it continuing as a fixed-term contract
(iii) to ensure that employers inform fixed-term
employees of vacancies within their organisation
(iv) to provide for collective or workplace
agreements with either a trade union or other worker representatives
to modify the effect of the provisions regarding successive fixed-term
(v) to allow employees to seek a remedy where
the Regulations have been infringed.
35. Universities already provide appropriate
parity on the main terms and conditions of service (see (i) above).
This is already governed by the legislation on equal pay for work
of equal value. Generally, information is also readily available
on vacancies within universities and can be made more accessible
where necessary (see (iii) above).
36. The SET Review (Roberts Report) believes
that CRS posts should generally be seen as having a transitional
rather than semi-permanent status (para 5.15). The Review also
concludes that only staff on the Research Associate "trajectory"
(or career path) should be placed on indefinite contracts. However,
the transfer of all fixed-term staff to indefinite contracts (see
(ii) above). will occur automatically after four continuous years
service on a fixed-term contract that has been renewed or extended
at least once unless there is an objective reason to justify it
continuing as a fixed-term. The regulations do not define what
an objective reason is. So it has yet to be ascertained whether
short-term fundingparticularly where it has already been
renewedwill be accepted an objective reason.
37. To encourage and assist universities
and HE colleges and their staff in the implementation of the Regulations,
UCEA and the recognised unions drew up joint guidance which was
completed in June 2002 (subject to the final text of the Regulations).
A copy is at Annex 2.
38. What is important to note is that the
short-term funding by its very nature will cease at some point
and therefore the possibility of termination will still arise
whether the post is on a fixed-term or an indefinite contract.
The Report of the Independent Review of Higher Education Pay and
Conditions in June 1999 (the Bett Report) recognised that more
staff being offered indefinite contracts would lead to a greater
risk of redundancy (para 217). It also acknowledged that one of
the main reasons for universities relying on fixed-term contracts
are the detailed termination and redundancy procedures laid down
in the Model Statute by the University Commissioners in 1991.
The Report expressed concern that these complex and drawn out
procedures create impediments to good management and in turn lead
to a substantial reliance on fixed-term contracts (para 221).
Acting on this recommendation, the pre-92 universities have now
proposed to the Privy Council a revised Model Statute that brings
the disciplinary, grievance and termination procedures for pre-92
academic and related staff in line with good practice as recommended
39. The new Regulations will impose costs
on universities. First of all, the removal of the waiver clause
for redundancy payments will mean that from October 2002 the full
cost of redundancy payments will fall on the university. The funding
providers have refused to finance this cost in their grant. Secondly,
where the ending of funding leads to termination of contracts
which have become indefinite, operation of termination procedures
will require significant staff and input.
40. The new regulations coupled with the
development of career structures and the provision of staff development
and training will enhance the management of contract research
in universities. However, it will remain for the majority a pathway
to a career elsewhere. Others will be attracted to join companies
competing in the same labour market so that universities will
have to pay competitive salaries to attract and retain the right
calibre of staff. The Universities UK in its submission to the
Spending Review has identified for government the necessary increase
in funding which this will require.
41. Universities UK supports the Directive's
objectives of improved working conditions for CRS. We are working
closely with the Universities, Funding and Research Councils,
trade unions and others to ensure that these changes are introduced
smoothly and efficiently.
21 June 2002
61 The Report of the Independent Review of Higher
Education Pay and Conditions June 1999. Back