Call to raise job hopes for young academics

October 28, 2005

Scottish universities must do more to improve career prospects for young academics if they are to remain internationally competitive in research, according to a report.

The Royal Society of Edinburgh's report says that Scottish universities must invest more if they are to avoid losing researchers in the important transitional phase between research contract and permanent post.

It also says that Scotland could do more to trumpet its existing research strengths, thereby enhancing its appeal to researchers.

The report was issued to MSPs this week ahead of a meeting in the Scottish Parliament convened by the RSE and Scotland's Futures Forum. The RSE has just made more than 40 research and enterprise awards, worth more than £1.7 million but its report says that, while valuable, it is not enough.

The report adds that Scotland has many selling points, including affordable housing, spectacular countryside and a thriving cultural scene.

However, it adds that Scotland does not do enough to publicise its research achievements, including its disproportionately high number of world-leading departments.

It suggests that Scotland could capitalise on its innovative research pooling plans to attract young researchers, offering networking opportunities beyond a single institution. But universities must ensure they offer good career paths, and tackle quality-of-life issues such as childcare, it says.

A spokesman for the umbrella body Universities Scotland agreed that, in the past, Scotland had been reticent in shouting about its research achievements.

But he said that there was no need for particular panic north of the border as universities across the world were worried about recruiting staff in an increasingly competitive market and about maintaining and enhancing their reputations for research.

"We are beating ourselves up if we think there is a particular problem in Scottish universities," he said.

"The RSE report does not show a complacency in Scottish institutions but rather that our performance exceeds the size of the trumpet we are blowing for ourselves."

MSPs were also due to hear claims that interdisciplinary research is hampered by traditional funding and assessment methods. Academics say they are frustrated by the lack of interdisciplinary evaluations of such research proposals.

The research councils are supporting "discipline hopping" through short-term grants allowing researchers to move from one subject area to another.

But many researchers are reluctant to make a shift that may last for only a year, while those taking up the option say that once they have set up an interdisciplinary project, it is "almost impossible" to find funding to take it forward.

olga.wojtas@thes.co.uk

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