Fixed-term whingeing

April 24, 1998

While it is accepted that fixed-term contracts of employment should not be a substitute for proper career management, personnel procedures and such, without them there would be considerably fewer employment possibilities for researchers.

Jeremy Toner (Letters, April 17) is mistaken in saying that research funding is as secure and flexible as funding council money. Research grants, ie "soft money", come from a variety of sources - research councils, commercial organisations, charities and so on - and are normally awarded in response to particular applications for specific projects and for defined terms. They cannot be aggregated, and most donors call for reports to ensure that their money is being spent only on the project for which it was granted.

At the time the contract of employment commences, there can be no guarantee of funding continuing beyond the defined term or of alternative funding or employment being available. It follows that it can be only for a fixed term coincident with that of the grant. It has to be remembered also that there is no funding within a grant for redundancy pay or "unfair dismissal" compensation.

It is time the Association of University Teachers adopted a more realistic approach to this matter if it wishes to avoid discriminating against many would-be researchers only too eager to avail themselves of the opportunities provided. Let us put an end to this annual whine once and for all.

James Bowen Northwood, Middlesex

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