Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80-90)|
WEDNESDAY 3 JULY 2002
80. I am a bit perplexed. The previous group
said this as well, the Roberts Report is no help. Actually the
Roberts Report envisages that, okay, after an initial period when
one has a fixed term contractand a lot of jobs are for
a probationary period or whatever, just to check people outit
then suggests the research associate positions become, as it were,
proper permanent jobs, in so far as any job is these days. In
the private sector you can have a financial shake up and lose
your job as well. I cannot understand why you are then saying,
and the previous group said as well, this is not helpful. I would
have thought somebody from the outside would think this is exactly
what is needed.
(Dr Link) There is a proposal to implement three trajectories,
one with the aspect in the industry, one so-called an academic
and onea research associate.
81. Yes, it is the third I am talking about.
(Dr Link) The research associate trajectory defines
what today we call a technician specialising in using a particular
technique and so on.
82. I see.
(Dr Link) These people even today are offered permanent
contracts by universities because they form a technical, supportive
part of the experimental research. The group you are probably
interested in is the so-called academic and in this particular
trajectory a short term contract is still preserved.
(Dr Hill) Could I just come in on that question. You
mentioned the fact that most jobs have a permanent appointment
with a probationary period.
(Dr Hill) Why can that not be the case for contract
84. That is what I am suggesting.
(Dr Link) Exactly.
(Dr Hill) That is not really what is recommended in
the Roberts Report.
(Dr Bradburne) We do not need a probation period of
(Dr Link) I had a probationary period of 20 years.
Taking into account that I came to this country invited and as
a senior in the first place I think this is the longest probationary
period I have ever had anywhere.
Dr Turner: Who do you three blame for this?
85. You cannot come through what you have come
through without feeling a little bitterness here and there surely?
(Dr Hill) In terms of blame it is difficult to know
because so many decisions are made so far above my head.
86. What I mean is this is not a new problem.
The advance of these short term contracts has gone on and on through
governments for some time. It is part and parcel of the universal
way of life now. You must think somebody somewhere has to break
this. Do you think individual universities could do it if they
(Dr Hill) Yes, they have. The Robert Gordon University
has actually started to employ contract research staff on a permanent
basis as a business strategy.
87. It could be done by individual universities.
They would have to budget within their money.
(Dr Bradburne) But too many times I have heard from
our senior management "that is not a problem. It did not
affect us. We managed". Because the people who are at the
top now got through with this system, they do not realise that
we are now 20/30 years on, mortgages have changed, career structures
have changed, family structures have changed. If you want to be
a successful scientist it is a lot harder to find that niche to
88. You are blaming senior academics?
(Dr Bradburne) I am not blaming senior academics,
I am saying that it is a problem that senior academics may not
be willing to accept there is such a big problem because it worked
89. Do you think there is anything they can
do to help resolve it?
(Dr Link) I think there is a way of resolving it.
Firstly, I think at the moment there is a general misunderstanding
of the research as such. Scientific research is not a short-term
activity. Research is built up with the expertise and experience,
and, therefore, it is a long-term activity. If one has a two or
three or one year contract it is absolutely impossible for young
people to develop their skills, to develop their intellectual
capacity and become independent. And, of course, for senior people
who are employed on short-term contracts the system is killing
their long-term research. One cannot carry out long-term research
having one, two or three year contracts. Also, this kind of system
provides an opportunity to abuse the system because those who
are lucky enough to have a permanent contract with the university
and are in the position to attract external funding do employ
people, particularly young people to perform particular tasks.
This type of employment does not develop the young people skills
because, if they are working from A to B for one, two or three
years, they are not developing skills, particularly intellectual
skills, to become independent scientists. After two or three years
those young people are moved to another A project where again
they are given tasks from A to B so it is a cheap labour and not
a probationary period and not the time when they are developing
and learning skills and learning how to become more independent,
how to build their own interests in science, their own research
and become senior scientists.
90. The very name short-term contract researcher
is almost a contradiction in terms, is it not?
(Dr Link) Yes.
(Dr Bradburne) Yes.
(Dr Hill) In terms of blame, I have had time to think
about it now, I would blame the research councils who prevent
people from applying for funding which goes towards their own
salaries and I would blame, also, the university managers who
do not have the conviction behind the statements that they give
to Roberts and to a lot of us in this room here. "Do not
worry, it is okay, we will find you permanent money, we just will
not give you a permanent contract". When I went for a mortgage
in 1995 my then head of department wrote a letter to the mortgage
company which said "He will be employed indefinitely within
Chairman: We have to move on but can I say that
has been extremely helpful. If you think of anything you would
like to have posed yourself as a question and can give us the
answer if you have the time it would be very useful if you write
in to us to amplify things you have said. No doubt we will put
out a report which hopefully will have some effect in this area.
Thank you all very much for coming.
1 Note by witness: In my opinion the only way
forward is to offer as many short-term contracts as a particular
university/institute is subsequently able to offer permanent posts.
And a short-term contract should, indeed, be treated as a probationary
period and not an opportunity to have cheap labour. Back