9.8 The BCS drew our attention to several studies
confirming the crisis in recruiting and retaining academic staff
in computing and electronics (Q 136 and p 60). A 2001
survey of Deans of Engineering showed that the greatest difficulty
in recruitment was in the computing departments, closely followed
by electronics. A survey of computing departments, also in 2001,
showed many unfilled vacancies (blamed principally on uncompetitive
salary levels) and poor student-staff ratios leading to unacceptable
work-loads and consequently retention difficulties. The International
Review of UK Research in Computer Science also highlighted
concerns about the difficulty of recruiting qualified academic
9.9 We recommend that the Government and universities
take specific action to address the crisis in recruiting and retaining
university academic staff in computing and electronics, as
highlighted by the BCS.
9.10 There is also concern about the experience
brought to their roles by the academic staff that can be recruited.
Professor May noted that "A large number of our engineering
departments actually do not have many people who have ever built
anything" (Q 262). This would be addressed if there
were more interchange of staff between industry and universities,
but there were two major obstacles to this.
(a) Salary differentials were a marked disincentive.
The IEE suggested a 2:1 ratio between industrial and academic
pay at the entry level (Q 136).
(b) Furthermore, staff from industry did not
fit the conventional academic mould. In particular, industry did
not place great emphasis on research publication, and such staff
could fare badly in the RAE evaluation, making them unattractive
to the university.
9.11 Most, but not all, universities choose to
follow nationally agreed salary scales for lecturers and post-doctoral
workers; professorial salaries are generally negotiated locally.
Dr Bradshaw of the CBI stated that "we [the CBI] think universities
ought to break out of this national agreement they have got themselves
into and concentrate on getting the right people in the right
places" (Q 445).
9.12 However, the fact is that few universities
can afford to pay more than the agreed minimum for each grade.
This is because most universities derive the greater part of their
income from Funding Councils on a per capita student basis and
paying more would mean poorer staff/student ratios. Beyond that,
in many universities, an 'all of one company' ethos militates
against paying more to staff in those disciplines for which there
is strong market demand.
9.13 Post-doctoral positions are a vital strand
of research. At present, such positions in universities are generally
on short-term contracts of two to three years and, for this reason,
can be less attractive than industrial positions which are generally
not fixed term. Some companies wishing to support and utilise
university research have to second some of their own staff for
this purpose. It may in future become necessary for such arrangements
which also have other benefits of increasing interchange
between universities and industry to be applied more widely.
9.14 Professor Halliday felt (Q 91) that
salary disparities were particularly problematic at the lower
end of the scale 23/24 year olds, post-doctoral researchers,
and so on. Professor O'Reilly also noted that the low success
rates in grant applications were a serious negative factor for
junior academic staff (Q 91).
9.15 We recommend that the Government should
consult universities and industry about ways of making the exchange
of staff between the sectors more straightforward and commonplace.
As part of this, particular attention will need to be paid to
salary differentials and the current emphasis on the importance
of research output on the basis of publications.
9.16 Despite the buoyancy of student applications
for university places in computing subjects there is still a shortage
of graduates with the skills that companies in the microelectronics
design industry are seeking. These include a combination of electronic
design and computing skills, but the majority of students in computing
disciplines receive very little training in hardware-related topics.
There is clearly scope to increase the number of places on university
courses that include aspects of both hardware and software design,
perhaps delivered jointly by electrical engineering and computer
9.17 We note that companies, particularly larger
companies with regular recruitment needs, are prepared to invest
significant effort in forming relationships with universities.
As outlined in the supplementary memorandum from Dr Williams of
IBM (p 116) and Sir Robin Saxby's comments (Q 357),
these relationships are often broad, covering studentships, research
contracts and free or low-cost access to hardware and software
as well as activities directly related to recruitment.
9.18 It is unrealistic to think that every computer
engineer or designer will be an entrepreneur. However, as noted
by Sir Robin Saxby, it is important to enable people to grow in
this direction (Q 359). In any case, an understanding of
business matters is valuable even for those who are not entrepreneurially
inclined. Apax Partners (p 135) were among those who encouraged
engineers to gain business and financial skills. The CBI added
basic knowledge of IP law to the set of desirable skills for graduates
to acquire in the course of their studies (Q 453).
The international position
9.19 In the foregoing, we have addressed the
supply of suitable trained staff through the UK education system
(which includes the university training of overseas students).
The only other source of such staff is through highly-skilled
immigration. Apax Partners noted (p 135) that the US, where
there is a more serious shortage of indigenous engineering graduates
than Europe, is highly dependent on that source. As the Minister
noted (Q 502), "there is a global market for talent
now, and we need to make certain that we win in that particular
9.20 Immigration policy is a complex and politically
sensitive topic. Commissioner Liikanen commented that European
national policies are inconsistent and tend to focus on refugee
questions, whereas the US is more concerned with the skill set
of the potential immigrant (Q 530). The Minister noted (Q 501)
the recent introduction of the highly-skilled migrant programme,
which we welcome.
87 HM Treasury, April 2002. Back
See Annex A of Investing in Innovation: a strategy for science,
engineering and technology, July 2002 - text available on
Third Report Session 1999-2000, HL Paper 38 Back
First Report Session 2000-01, HL Paper 49. Back
Science Education from 14 to 19, Third Report Session 2001-02,
HC Paper 508-I. Back
In his speech entitled "Science Matters" at the Royal
Society on 23 May 2002. Back
See www.royalsoc.ac.uk/funding/merit.htm Back