Ask the panel

September 28, 2007

Worried about your employment, maternity, pension rights? Send your questions to The Times Higher advice panel.

'I'm an experienced researcher, with more than ten years' experience, but as I am on a fixed-term contract, and am still regarded as a postdoc research assistant, I am unable to bid for grant money in my own name and therefore secure funding for my own post. Is there anything I can do?'

* A spokesperson for the University and College Union says: "The UCU believes that the criteria for applying for grants should be based on ability to manage a project and not on job title or contract type. Many very experienced researchers remain on the first post-doctoral research grade through lack of any research career structure and a fear that promoting research staff will price them out of the grants market.

"The eligibility criteria between the research councils differs, and we would like to see consistent criteria that base eligibility on knowledge and skills only. The Medical Research Council, for example, will consider grant applications from any UK-based researcher who can demonstrate that he or she will direct the proposed research and be actively engaged in carrying it through. It further specifically states that researchers supported on open ended or fixed-term contracts may apply for grants and may request funds for their own salary.

"The UCU would like to see the other research councils follow this lead and have raised this issue with RCUK.

"It may be worth contacting the individual research council to discuss your circumstances and pointing out to them that you have the knowledge, skills and support to manage a project. This would need to be supported by your institution. It is also worth looking at the criteria to be named as a co investigator - you may be able to be named as such, even if not as a principal investigator."

* Gill Evans, project leader of the Higher Education Funding Council for England-funded Dispute Resolution Project ( ), says: "The terms of the award of grants are not fixed by the university but by the research councils, and if you want to change the system you will need to raise the matter at that level.

"The underlying problem is that project money does not cover the full economic cost - there are also infrastructure costs. This means that the university as well as the funder must be sure the project can be carried out with the resources available. A senior permanent member of staff has to be able to approve the commitment of infrastructure funding on behalf of the university.

"Ask the Higher Education Funding Council for England about the problem you identify as affecting mature short-term contract staff."

* A spokesperson for the Universities and Colleges Employers Association says: "The JNCHES Fixed Term Guidance recommends that institutions should prevent the continuous use of fixed-term contracts by limiting the overall duration of a series of fixed-term contracts to four continuous years (after October 1, 2002). Go to where the 'Publications' tab will lead you to 'JNCHES Guidance and Reports'; here the Fixed-Term and Casual Employment Guidance for Higher Education Institutions document sets out clear guidance.

"Your position implies that you have been on a fixed-term contact for five years. If so, you need to approach your manager/HR department, especially if funding for the research that you are conducting appears likely to continue."

This advice panel includes the University and College Union, the Universities and Colleges Employers Association, the Equality Challenge Unit and the Higher Education Funding Council for England-funded Dispute Resolution Project. Send questions to


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