The debate over short-term contracts for postdoctoral staff is hamstrung by the apparent failure of the Association of University Teachers to understand how research is funded.
It is not in the gift of principal investigators or universities to provide the funding for long-term research contracts. PIs apply for a grant, await the outcome and if approved have a salary for a further period of, normally, three years. Without that money there are no means by which research staff can be paid, whether they have a contract of six months or six years. Given the 20 per cent success rate of most grant-funding schemes, it is obvious where the rate-limiting step lies.
Most PIs I know lie awake at night worrying about how they will afford their postdoctorates. PIs don't need the added pressure of being forced to accept the responsibility of postdoctorate salaries without the necessary funding. Postdoctorates who don't get a lectureship must either move jobs within the university or move out of academia.
University College London