Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120-136)|
WEDNESDAY 3 JULY 2002
120. We have been told that the implementation
of the RCI is very patchy across the country. Surely you could
be tougher about it. You have an influence on the universities
and represent them all. You negotiate with them; you talk to them.
(Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe) Indeed, and our
job is to try to use the influence that we have. I believe that
that influence has been effective but there is still a lot more
that needs to be done. The question is whether or not, through
this initiative and through the other initiatives like the contract
research staff good management practice, like the HEFCE funding
of the human resource initiative, we can embed solutions for these
problems associated with short term contract staff into human
resource strategies of institutions because it seems to me that
if we continue to deal with this as an add-on we will still have
individual institutions not matching what the best are doing.
The best are doing very good things indeed. Not all institutions
are yet doing their best.
121. So why did we need the Roberts Review then?
Why have you not been operating that kind of study into practical
solutions to it? Why did we need to have the Treasury ask Gareth
Roberts to come in?
(Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe) I think because
the Roberts Review, as indeed the funding council initiative,
has been a follow-up to the work that has been done both through
the RCI and through the Athena project of unpacking some of these
issues and identifying the problems. I hope that the report that
Professor Roberts has produced will mean that there are additional
resources attached to the changes that are required because without
those resources we will continue to try to change some of the
systems but it will end up being a considerable degree of tinkering
I think you will realise when you look at the outcome of the RAE
this year that the impact of an unexpected change in funding,
which followed on from a huge extra commitment by staff to improve
quality, to deliver the results that were demanded of them, was
a kick in the teeth effectively, because the money was not there
to support that research and now departments are having to review
whether or not they can even maintain some of that research, even
though it had been identified as improved and excellent, seems
to me to be something that the universities cannot address but,
just to go back to the point you made earlier, the Government
will have to address.
122. The Royal Academy of Engineering told us
that the Research Careers Initiative was failing for two reasons.
One was lack of funds but the other was that universities were
not really implementing the policy through their organisations.
There was a bit of gesture stuff going on but there was not any
real commitment. Is that fair?
(Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe) The first part is
fair, that there is a shortage of money. I do not think it is
fair to say that the university sector as a whole is not addressing
these points seriously. I think the amount of effort that Universities
UK has put into delivering good practice is testament to that
and I think that both we and the unions have signed up to all
these areas of good practice. I come back to the point that I
realise, and I think we all realise, that progress in some areas
is patchy, but there is no doubt that for major research institutions,
and perhaps I can ask Glynis to make a comment on this, unless
they value their research staff, including their contract research
staff, they cannot deliver the excellence which is expected of
them in the research area. They cannot generate the research resources
that are required in order to maintain their reputations. They
are entirely reliant on the quality of their staff to do that.
(Professor Breakwell) Obviously, I would agree with
that. It seems to me that it would be necessary to give very clear
examples of institutions that were not complying with the requirements
of the RCI. Blanket statements about being disappointed with the
institutions are very difficult to respond to. I can say what
my own institution is doing and it is totally compliant, probably
more than compliant. One of the reasons that we want to be more
than compliant is that if we look now at the development of our
human resource strategy and a clear statement of the human resource
strategy, this is a fundamental part of that strategy. We are
rewarded through HEFCE for developing effective human resource
strategies. There is a big incentive to universities to do this
well. It baffles me, the suggestion that universities would not
be responding to that incentive. It makes no sense. It makes no
123. Can you tell us how you believe the new
regulations on fixed-term employment will affect universities,
and indeed have you done any analysis on that, particularly its
(Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe) You mean in terms
of the European directive?
(Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe) Yes. Where institutions
are either asking or requiring staff to sign away the clauses
on redundancy, it will no longer be legitimate for them to do
that. The costs associated with that I suppose will depend on
how successful those staff are in continuing to attract research
grants and just how many staff are affected by potential redundancy,
but no institution is keen to go down the path of making good
research staff redundant. What I cannot do is say that we can
put chapter and verse on the amount of money that it would cost.
The one thing we do know, however, is that the money for redundancy
is not part of research contracts. The funders and charities are
not prepared to make that part of the contract so that will have
to come out of universities' resources.
125. Do you hold out any serious chances of
getting your members, vice chancellors and others, to in the end
try to create more tenured academic positions for research staff?
Do you think they are serious about doing that?
(Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe) I find it very difficult
to answer that question because if there is
126. Effectively the answer is no because if
they have not indicated to you that they are strongly worried
about this and would like to do something about it the answer
(Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe) No. I was slightly
puzzled by your use of the word "tenure" because we
do not have tenure any longer. What I think you mean is permanent
(Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe) Universities have
to be responsible employers. Where they have to account to the
funding councils for the way they spend their money through their
human resource strategies and the returns they make, I do not
think it would be responsible of them as employers to continue
to employ people whom they know they cannot fund. I find it rather
difficult to answer your question because clearly setting up a
research team, establishing a research reputation, is entirely
dependent on getting really good staff. One of the incentives
to get really good staff is to offer people sustained employment,
to offer them stability, not to be vulnerable in the way that
so many of your witnesses today have indicated that they have
felt terribly vulnerable, so that there is no incentive at all
for universities not to do that where they can do so.
128. You do not think universities operate creative
accountancy then in terms of shovelling money from pocket to pocket
despite the rules and regulations?
(Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe) One of the things
that the Transparency Review has indicated is that where universities
have control over resources in other areas, some of that money
has clearly been put into research. We know as well that where
cuts have been made, investment in, for example, maintenance of
building has been foregone because it has not been regarded as
quite the same priority as maintaining support for teaching. There
are all sorts of ways in which universities have tried to be creative
to manage reducing resources, but the idea that they can provide
resources for posts where they know the resourced stream for that
project and for that work will be cut off or may be cut off I
think would be irresponsible.
129. Universities have a general expectation
that they will push back the frontiers of knowledge. "Here
is a person; they can push back the frontiers of knowledge but
because they have not got a contract we will sack them".
That is the reality, is it?
(Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe) Perhaps I can turn
it around and say to you, where is the university to find the
money in order to employ them?
Mr McWalter: The Chair has indicated that there
are ways of organising your finances. You do not have to visit
upon particular members of staff the uncertainties of a particular
funding stream if you do not choose to do so.
130. Let me follow that through. We have seen
during the research assessment exercise since 1992 research concentrated
in fewer and fewer universities; in other words it has become
more selective. My worry is that if we tackle this problem that
we are discussing today larger units will be able to handle contract
researchers much more successfully than smaller units and therefore
we will accelerate the division between teaching and research
universities that is becoming so apparent to us all. Would you
agree with that?
(Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe) Yes. We have certainly
said that the degree of selectivity has gone far enough and that
there is a real danger to seed corn funding for new research for
new ideas and a danger, if we continue to go down that path, of
ossification. If I can just come back to the point that was made
about numbers of staff and providing support for them I would
like to make two points about that. One is that I do not think
anybody believes that every contract research member of staff
either wants to or should become a permanent member of staff.
That is not necessarily the career path they want to go down.
The second point is, and perhaps this is a bit unfair, that I
do not know how on earth you would make the choice, of the 39,000
contract research staff we have in the UK, that the university
would choose to fund and those that it would not when the money
for all of them is coming from other sources, and where the university
and the researcher are responsible to those other sources and
accountable to those other sources for the way the money is spent.
I think it would be a highly dangerous proposition.
131. But in the Health Service, for example,
the Macmillan Cancer charity, which I know a little bit about,
gives the National Health Service funds to employ nurses in the
cancer arena for a set number of years on the basis that they
will take them on, so there is a model there and elsewhere where
that can happen. You do not take them on unless they are going
to have that chance of permanency. Of course there are trip wires
along the way. They may want to duck out; they may not want to
carry on and so on and they may not be up to it, for example,
of course, but most of them will be up to it. I have not met many
contract research workers in my experience, and I must have met
as many as anybody, who are not up to it. There may be one or
two of them but they know it themselves and get out.
(Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe) I will ask Glynis
to respond to that particular point because I think she has some
experience of it, but it sounds very seductive. I would only say
that we have had a real battle with the funding charities in terms
of infrastructure costs, that what they are prepared to fund is
the project. They are not prepared to fund the core costs, the
costs associated with the staff and so on.
132. The overheads.
(Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe) It sounds a bit
Nirvana-ish to me to have them going down the path we are talking
(Professor Breakwell) There is that model already
with some research contracts where you have, for instance, the
Royal Society or Wolfson who are providing research fellowships
where the universities, if they are to apply for those, must at
the point that they apply assure the person who is appointed a
permanent post in the university subsequently.
133. There was a model with young lecturers
too, I seem to remember, in the 1980s, when they took the other
lecturers on only on the basis that they would then employ them.
(Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe)
The New Blood Scheme.
134. Yes. So the models are all there, so why
should research contractors not be part of that too? I know it
is big bucks but it is something you ought to fight for, is it
not, if we want to keep our science base up and keep our research
going on in the arts and so on?
(Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe) It is a point we
are constantly making to the private funders. I would only reiterate
the point that we have not yet been successful even in persuading
them that they should provide resources for infrastructure costs
but yes, in principle, absolutely.
135. Are you making that point to the Treasury?
(Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe) We have been making
the point about infrastructure to the Treasury, yes. It is actually
in our submission under the SR2002 bid.
136. Did your submission include anything to
address the problems of short-term research contractors?
(Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe) In terms of adequate
funding for research, yes. In terms of getting recognition for
the imbalance now between the amount of money that is coming through
public sources and the amount of money coming through private
sources, no, but certainly the amount of research that would be
done were those private sources to dry up, I think it would reduce
considerably. In a way the Government is making a choice in terms
of the amount of money that it is prepared to invest in research
through public funds. Universities are trying hard to deliver
their side of the bargain by looking for other sources of income
which will enable them to continue to do top quality research.
That is their responsibility.
Chairman: I really must bring it to an end;
I am sorry. If you have some points you would like to write to
us about please do, and thank you very much for coming. You are
very welcome to listen to the man himself, Sir Gareth Roberts,
who has been sitting patiently at the back.