Proposals for the career management of contract research staff in universities are close to being finalised by the research councils.
Kenneth Edwards, chairman of the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals, told the House of Lords science and technology select committee this week that he expects shortly to receive a draft concordat detailing the proposed arrangements from the councils and the Office of Science and Technology.
The concordat should form the basis of agreement between universities and the councils on providing contract researchers with more job security.
The Lords, who are looking into academic careers for graduate scientists, heard that a previous attempt by the CVCP and Association of University Teachers to address the plight of fixed-term contract researchers in 1990 had failed to attract the full support of the research councils.
The councils argued that the extra costs involved should be the borne by universities as employers.
But the CVCP believes that unless action is taken, the already dismal conditions under which many contract staff are employed will worsen.
It told the Lords that there are already cases of fixed-term staff claiming that they have been offered second appointments at the bottom of the scale after attaining a higher salary under an earlier contract.
Many universities will only give maternity leave and pay, and pay for long-term sickness if the funder meets the cost.