Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100-110)|
WEDNESDAY 3 JULY 2002
100. It is fair to say that academics politics
can be quite nasty. Would you think it fair to say there may be
senior academics out there who find it very convenient to have
a lot of short-term contract staff because it makes it much easier
for them to manipulate things to their satisfaction?
(Ms Hunt) I think it is possible to paint that picture.
What I think it is also very important to realise is that there
are very good academics out there who are struggling very hard
with systems which are not enabling them to manage their staff
well. I think it is important to say that because those people
are also victims within this. They are managing research teams,
they are trying to generate good quality academic research and
development so that they are attracting students into the system
and they have not got any ability to encourage the very people
that they need to take up academic careers so that can happen.
There are instances obviouslyyou have heard of one earlier
by one of the witnesseswhere there are personal conflicts
and there are professional conflicts which come into play. That
is not something which within this current system can be managed
and can be adequately monitored so it will always be hearsay and
it will always be very, very individualistic. I think it is something
that certainly no university at this moment could hand on heart
say they have a way of addressing that issue.
(Mr Pike) Could I add that we should note, also, that
it is not just senior academics who are responsible for the continuance
of fixed-term contracts, one has to say that successive governments
are responsible also and to blame for the exploitation that many
contract researchers will tell you about. Universities are asking
contract research staff and all fixed term employees to shoulder
the risk of uncertain funding themselves. We believe that universities
should shoulder more of that risk on their own and not ask their
employees to endure years and years of uncertainty on fixed term
contracts. Government policy is such that the European Directive
on Fixed Term Work is now being reluctantly transposed, it is
being transposed in October, it should have been transposed this
July. The protection afforded to employees under the new regulations
is far less than you will find in other EU states. We believe
that the Government is transposing this directive according to
the needs of employers, not employees. We would like to see greater
protection which is why we have been negotiating with the higher
education employers on more specific objective criteria which
will define when and how a fixed-term contract can be used. In
the area of employment rights we do believe that if Government
had been more careful and more watchful over the preponderance
of fixed-term contracts many of these exploitative situations
could have been dealt with years ago.
101. Is there a risk that you are negotiating
your members out of jobs altogether?
(Mr Pike) We do not believe so. The new Employment
Bill, which is yet to receive Royal Assent, will withdraw or do
away with redundancy payment waivers, so in circumstances whereby
a fixed term contract expires universities and employers in general
will have to pay redundancy payments, so in that sort of circumstance
it will make very little difference whether one is a fixed term
employee or a permanent employee. If a redundancy situation arises,
be you fixed term or permanent, there will be a cost for both
sets of employees and so we do not believe that this will have
a negative impact on job opportunities.
102. It would seem also fair to say that using
excessive reliance on short-term contract workers is not the most
efficient way of conducting long-term research either in terms
of the quality of that research or cost effectiveness in getting
the best results possible out of the money that is currently available
for research. Do you have any suggestion as to how much increase
in funding would be needed to establish a situation where the
reliance on short-term contracts could be drastically reduced
so that most long-term researchers were working on open-ended
contracts and do you think that British science would benefit
(Ms Hunt) The quick answer is
103. Just make sure it is the same figure.
(Ms Hunt) No, no. It is all written down and it is
submitted to the Chancellor in our submission on the spending
104. That is all right then.
(Ms Hunt) I am sure he is going to take every word
105. I would not share that view.
(Ms Hunt) I am going to be honest with you here: I
have not got a figure in my head, and the reason I have not is
that I think it is important to realise that it is not just the
figure; it is about how it is cascaded down. It is about how that
money is shared, how that money is allocated and not just according
to an institution. It is about having the overall umbrella that
that institution is going to use for staff, for fixed term contract
staff, for career development, for training, for support on a
university wide level. Tom referred to the agreement that we have
been negotiating with the employer side and we are very proud
of one area of that, which is that we are saying that for the
first time universities will acknowledge that they are in fact
an entity, not a department, not a corridor, not a small group,
when it looks at funding, and that they will acknowledge that
where they are looking at how you protect and develop someone's
career they will have a responsibility to look at the overall
funding within a whole university before they say there is no
money to continue. That of itself will go a very long way to making
it possible for individual researchers, individual contract staff,
to get more security without themselves having to put the begging
bowl out in effect.
(Mr Williams) Let us take some instances from the
witnesses we have seen who have been on fixed-term contracts for
20 years or so. How much would it have cost to put them on open-ended
contracts on the first day? Nothing? How much would you have saved
because of the time they spent in worrying about applying for
new jobs and all of the insecurity that they have suffered?
(Mr Wilson) That is the point I would make too, which
is that to some extent you are right: there is an issue of funding
and, like AUT, we have put in a submission for substantially increased
funding for research, but the improvement in the lives of contract
researchers is not really about funding essentially; it is about
better management. It is pretty obvious if you look at the different
experience of the pre- and post-1992s and the way in which they
handle research and manage it and fund it and plan it, that it
is perfectly possible to organise good quality, long-term research
which is getting five stars now in a completely different way.
The post-1992s are not doing that because they are better funded;
far from it. If anything it is the reverse. They are doing it
because they have a different kind of managerial culture, I think,
partly, a different sort of history and they are more used to
piling things in the longer term and appointing staff and, if
necessary, re-applying and re-training if that particular funding
stream comes to a halt. That is the kind of model that we are
more than happy to sit down and negotiate. Indeed, we have done
nationally. That is the kind of approach we want to see and it
is not really about funding.
106. I know you represent senior staff as well
as more junior staff, including these people who are affected.
Is it not the case that the current system is very helpful to
some senior staff? They get someone in on a post-doc, they milk
them for three years or whatever, kick them out, and then the
senior member of staff can portray that research that has been
done as his or her own? There is real scope for people to build
up their own reputation and so on through this system whereas
if the person is still around they have some kind of ownership
(Ms Hunt) Can I go back to what I said to you about
the ability to apply for your own grant? That is why it is very
important. Control the income streams in terms of the research
that you are interested in and you have much more of a power relationship
there of itself and that is something that certainly this Committee
could do, to ask the funding bodies and the research councils
to do something about this, to address the fact that at the moment
they are actively undermining a significant proportion of the
academic community in this country to an extent that it is going
to seriously impact on the economic security of this country in
the next five or ten years. That is the reality.
(Mr Wilson) I am not sure that that kind of academic
model really works any longer because most research these days
is done by a team which involves an awful lot of people working
closely together. The principal investigators themselves are very
often on fixed-term contracts, their superiors if you like are
equally vulnerable and insecure, so it may be that there is a
perception that that kind of quick turnover helps people to get
their name on the published cover of a book but it is not really
like that any more.
107. I am an ex-academic; I have seen it.
(Mr Wilson) I am not saying it does not happen, nor
that it did not use to happen perhaps rather more than it does
now, but I do not think it is quite such a major factor is the
point I am making.
Chairman: We have also got a short-term contract
here, of course.
108. We are all very conscious of that.
(Ms Hunt) You get redundancy terms though.
Chairman: Excellent. We have got a very good
109. Except we are unemployable. We cannot finish,
not least because we have Sir Gareth afterwards. Can I ask you
about the Roberts Review on proposals on research career development?
(Mr Pike) From our point of view we welcome the Roberts
Review and it has highlighted several areas on which we would
agree with Gareth Roberts. However, we do not think that the Roberts
Review has got it quite right when it argues for extra payment
for researchers in set subjects, like science, engineering technology.
What the Roberts Review has highlighted is that a number of different
subject areas in higher education are experiencing some pretty
acute pressures in terms of recruitment and retention, but within
the Roberts Review we do not see any evidence that those pressures
are worse in set subject areas. Indeed, implicit within the Roberts
Review is an admission that other subject areas such as health
and education are subject to the same recruitment and retention
pressures but they are simply outside the scope of the Roberts
Review so they are not commented on. We would argue that the Roberts
Review has highlighted the need to increase funding in general
and that if you increase funding and pay for researchers in set
subjects only what you will do is enable recruiters in set subject
areas to increase their share of the limited pool of talent. What
we would prefer to see is a general uplift in funding and pay
levels throughout the sector to encourage more people into higher
education in terms of working in a research and academic capacity.
We do not particularly think that the Roberts Review has established
a case for differential subject payments to staff in set subject
areas. We would also point out that the Government has other priority
areas in terms of health and education, and if you provide additional
incentives for researchers in set subjects other key policy areas
and initiatives could well be affected. We do welcome the Roberts
Review's findings that academic pay levels in general are too
low; we would endorse that.
(Mr Williams) When I started reading the Roberts Review
I was very encouraged by the identification of the problem. I
think that is really significant because I am not sure if that
has actually got through in certain sectors, so it identified
the problem but then I think it did start to go off track a bit
because I think its underlying model is trying to keep a separate
identity for what CRS (contract research staff) do and what academic
staff do, as it says. I think the difference, when you look at
what really goes on in research teams, is minimal, so therefore,
continuing on what was said by the witnesses, these parallel tracks
that we get which then rely on fixed-term contracts as the basis
for two of them I do not think are any help because they are cutting
across this research team which is trying to deliver long-term
research, albeit maybe by a series of fixed-term grants given
the current dual support system.
110. So you do not buy trajectories at all?
(Mr Williams) I do not buy trajectories at all, no.
Chairman: Many thanks to you for that. That
has been very helpful. Please do write in if there is something
that you want to get over and did not have the chance.