Memorandum submitted by The Wellcome Trust
1. The Wellcome Trust (the "Trust")
is an independent, medical research-funding charity, established
under the will of Sir Henry Wellcome and funded from a private
endowment, which is managed with long-term stability and growth
in mind. Its mission is to foster and promote research with the
aim of improving human and animal health. The Trust supports more
than 5000 researchers in 45 different countries. In addition,
the Trust funds major initiatives in the public's engagement with
science and is the country's leading supporter of research into
the history of medicine.
2. Key to the Trust's mission is to meet
the training and career development needs of researchersto
ensure that academic biomedical research remains an attractive
and competitive career option for the most creative and innovative
minds. To achieve this aim the Trust provides a portfolio of personal
award schemes for basic and clinical scientists, historians of
medicine and other researchers within the Trust's sphere of interest.
These awards are available at all stages of the academic research
career, from PhD training studentships through to Senior and Principal
3. In response to the Committee's inquiry
the Trust provides a brief background setting out its general
position and has then answered the specific questions. Throughout
this response references are made to a number of recently published
Trust-funded publications (included with our response for your
Review of PhD Research Training:
Career Paths of a 1988-90 Prize Student Cohort
Review of PhD Research Training:
The Student Perspective
Review of PhD Research Training:
The Supervisor Perspective
Radical Thinking, Creative Solutions:
4. The Trust welcomes the Science and Technology
Committee's interest in short-term contracts in science and engineering.
It is a complex issue, as short-term research contracts are used
to employ people at a variety of stages in academic research careers,
from first postdoctoral appointment to advanced level positions
for senior academics. Additionally, many key research support
staff are employed on short-term research contracts.
5. The Trust attaches considerable importance
to the careers of the individuals it supports, which is manifest
in a number of ways; through provision of enhanced salaries; through
in-depth studies which follow the career paths of Trust-funded
individuals and which seek their opinions on important aspects
of their career choices, and through representation of Trust staff
on a number of forums charged with addressing key national issues
in this area.
6. One issue raised by Sir Gareth Roberts'
review on the supply of people with science, technology, engineering
and mathematics skills was the increasingly uncompetitive salaries
of contract researchers. This is an area where the Trust has endeavored
to take a lead within the UK higher education sector.
7. Pay scales for post-doctoral researchers
funded by the Trust are based on university levels and scales,
but since October 1989, all scientific post-doctoral researchers
with salaries funded by the Trust have received an enhancement
premium worth between 8-16 per cent of their basic salary. Furthermore
in October 1999, the Trust granted a salary enhancement of 30
per cent above the basic university pay scale for many of its
research fellows at UK universities. Those eligible for this additional
enhancement include all UK-based, scientific, non-clinical Trust-funded
research fellows with contracts of three years or more funded
within the Trust's Career Development Programmes. The Trust's
objective was not only to further its contribution to UK science
and continue to attract top quality scientists, but to challenge
the Government to honour the Bett
report and match these awards across scientific research salaries.
8. The Trust was strongly supportive of
Sir Gareth Roberts' Review on its publication earlier this year
and believes the report deserves to set the future agenda for
academic research careers in the UK. We hope that the Government
will be supportive of the many recommendations it makes in the
forthcoming spending review.
Question 1. Does the preponderance of
short-term research contracts really matter? Why?
Question 2. What are the implications
for researchers and their careers?
Question 3. Is there evidence that the
present situation causes good researchers to leave?
9. People are at the heart of developing
a robust research base and the most creative and innovative minds
need to be attracted to academic research. However, we have concerns
that many aspects of scientific careers are not currently attractive.
The preponderance of short-term research contracts and perceived
lack of career structure associated with short-term contracts
underpins much of the dissatisfaction with an academic career
10. At a recent Trust sponsored workshop
exploring career issues in UK academic science, job insecurity
created by short-term research contracts was stated as both a
key reason for leaving/contemplating leaving academic research
and a key obstacle to career progression in an academic research
career. Short-term contracts have both professional and personal
effects. On the professional front, it may be difficult and time
consuming to identify the next job and particularly difficult
to identify a permanent job. This can lead to the loss of research
momentum, especially when staff have to change research area.
On a personal level, the required mobility for maintaining employment
on such contracts may be difficult if there are family commitments,
or if someone does not wish to relocate to another institution.
Lastly, not knowing what or where the next job may be can have
a major psychological effect on the researcher.
11. Reports published recently by the Trust
on aspects of PhD research training indicate that many young scientists
give up a career in research early in their careers. For example,
in a cohort of Trust-funded PhD students who graduated between
1991 and 1993, 81 per cent took a first post-doctoral position
in academic research, but only 46 per cent remained in academic
research four to seven years after graduation. Almost one-third
of the students interviewed in a Trust study,
indicated that they were unlikely to remain in scientific research.
In both cases, the main reasons cited were low pay and poor career
12. The unattractiveness of scientific careers
may also be having an impact on recruitment at the PhD level.
In the Trust's most recent report on PhD training,
almost half of PhD supervisors surveyed felt that it is now more
difficult to recruit high calibre PhD students than it was five
years ago. The main reasons given were again that a scientific
career is unattractive financially and that long-term career prospects
for students are poor. The introduction of student loans and the
debt this has created for many students, may also be an increasingly
important factor in determining career choices beyond the undergraduate
13. The Trust is currently scoping a research
project to explore the experiences and career pathways of contract
research staff in more detail.
Question 4. What would be the right balance
between contract and permanent research staff in universities
and research institutions?
14. This is not an easy question to answer.
Sir Gareth Roberts' Review outlines both the advantages and disadvantages
of contract research. The lack of career structure, poor human
resources management and uncompetitive salaries all combine to
make contract research positions particularly unattractive for
many of the best PhD graduates. The Trust believes that there
is currently an imbalance in the sector, currently weighted in
favour of contract research positions.
Question 5. Has the Concordat and Research
Careers Initiative made any difference?
15. The Trust believes that some useful
progress has been made improving the management of research careers
through the implementation of the Concordat and the work of the
Research Careers Initiative (RCI). However, it is clear that there
is much still to be done and as Sir Gareth Roberts noted in the
third Interim Report on the RCI's work, "the pace and scale
of change need to be increased further to fully deliver the objectives
of the RCI".
Question 6. How should policy move forward?
16. The Roberts' Review makes a number of
recommendations that the Trust would fully endorse. First, we
would strongly agree that there is a need for universities to
improve salaries of academic and contract research staff. We are
in agreement with Roberts that starting salaries for postdoctoral
researchers should move in the near future to at least £20,000.
We hope also that the Government will provide additional funding
to permit universities to respond to market pressures and improve
recruitment and retention of academic staff and contract researchers
in disciplines where there are shortages due to high market demand.
The Trust is also very supportive of the Review's call to increase
the level of PhD stipends and believe this is vital to recruit
the best students to PhD courses. We agree with the Review that
it is essential that PhD stipends keep pace with graduates' salary
expectations, particularly given the increasing importance of
student debt on graduates' career choices. In addition to increased
salaries and stipends the Trust would be supportive of recommendations
made by the Academy of Medical Sciences earlier this year,
which suggest that, as far as possible, all contract research
workers should receive the same terms and conditions of employment
as permanent staff (eg annual, sickness and maternity leave, redundancy
rights to name but a few).
17. Second, the Roberts' Review believes
that there should be clearer career pathways and suggests that
prestigious academic fellowships be established, where Fellows
serve a probationary period of two to three years. On satisfactory
completion of these the host institution would be obliged to offer
a permanent post to the Fellow. The Trust strongly supports this
recommendation and indeed has itself operated such a scheme, the
University Award, for a number of decades.
18. The Trust believes that a useful model
allowing short term contracts to be embedded within institutional
career paths has been developed by the University of Wales College
of Medicine. The University has developed a "Prestigious
Fellowship Scheme", launched on 1 June 2002. The aim of the
scheme is "to provide a clear developmental plan and a supportive
environment for College staff who are awarded, in competition,
(prestigious) fellowships from a recognised external body".
These Fellowships are in the spirit of the Roberts' Review and
allow on successful review Senior Fellowship holders to have posts
made "on-going". They also allow holders of Junior or
Intermediate Fellowships to be encouraged and helped to apply
for more senior fellowships or agree other career options.
19. Third, the Roberts' Review notes that
it is important for postdoctoral researchers to be able to develop
individual career paths, reflecting the different career destinationsIndustrial,
Academic and Research Associateopen to them, and that funding
arrangements reflect the development of these career paths. The
Review believes that enabling the individual to establish a clear
career path, and a development plan to take them along it, is
critical to improving the attractiveness of postdoctoral research.
The Trust would also endorse this view and support the recommendation
that HEIs take responsibility for ensuring that all their postdoctoral
researchers have a clear career development plan and have access
to appropriate training opportunities.
20. The Trust believes that Sir Gareth Roberts'
Review sets a clear agenda for change within the sector. However,
it will be difficult to realise this challenging agenda without
sustainable funding for the higher education sector from the Government.
21 May 2002
62 Independent Review Of Higher Education Pay And
Conditions. The Stationery Office, 1999. Back
Radical Thinking, Creative Solutions: Conference Report. The
Wellcome Trust, 2001. Back
Review of PhD Research Training: The Student Perspective. The
Wellcome Trust, 2000. Back
Review of PhD Research Training: The Supervisor Perspective.
The Wellcome Trust, 2001. Back
Non-Clinical Scientists on Short Term Contracts in Medical Research.
The Academy of Medical Sciences, 2002. Back
Details available at: http://www.uwcm.ac.uk/research/research-support/prestigious-fellowship-scheme.htm Back