Minister sells science to young ... But insecurity puts them off

September 15, 1995

Half of all academics employed in science are on casual contracts, which university unions say is deterring students from choosing careers in science, writes David Charter.

Four unions called for more job security, more research and development spending and more studentships and fellowships as part of Science Alliance, a campaign to reverse the national decline in interest in science, at the Trades Union Congress this week.

Their discussion paper, A Career in Science?, says the Government must take action to encourage science students and to promote the image of science. Universities should boost their intake by taking half of those who apply to do science - currently they take a third - and by targetting more money on postgraduate awards in shortage subjects. Industry should aim for a Pounds 4 billion increase in R&D spending and increase the number of scientists, engineers and technologists on company boards.

"Science deserves a better deal," says the paper, produced jointly by the AUT, Natfhe, MSF and IPMS.

"Jobs in science are still being cut and science is still an insecure career with worse pay than many other comparable professions."

"Small wonder that, despite laudable efforts like National Science Week, public awareness of science is still low and science is rarely seen as an attractive career option for school-leavers".

The unions say that only 400 people a year get permanent jobs as science academics, but 2,000 contract staff are recruited. "At least two and sometimes three periods of contract research have to be worked through before gaining a permanent post. " More than half of the contract researchers leave academic life after their first contract, and half of the rest leave after their second.

The unions claim that over half of the contract researchers who quit university life also leave science completely, even though most of them have PhDs. Most contract res-earchers do not get a full time job until the age of 31-33.

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