Oxford research job jitters

February 16, 1996

A survey of 500 contract re-searchers at Oxford University has uncovered "serious and damaging shortcomings" in their employment.

According to the Association of University Teachers, Oxford received Pounds 94 million external research income last year, more than any other university. But its survey showed many contract researchers were treated like an "underclass" with no job security and fewer rights and privileges than established staff.

The survey, sent to 1,3000 contract researchers and returned by 500 contract researchers, found that more than 75 per cent of contracts were for three years or less and only 4 per cent for more than five years. A further 10 per cent were for one year or under. The respondents were highly qualified with 70 per cent holding doctorates.

The AUT said most wanted greater job stability. Typical comments included: "If research is so important why does the university hire people on a piece-meal basis"; "an appalling way to live"; "a life-time of stress and insecurity and wasted productivity".

The survey calls for improvements including consistent criteria for salary scales, voluntary teaching paid for and properly recognised; career counselling and effective appraisal and proper support for contract researchers.

"Research is a major part of the product of Oxford University and while the university congratulates itself on attracting increasing amounts of research funding it could give more consideration to the needs of the research staff it employs," says the survey report.

The university said the survey was to be discussed with the AUT this week. It said it already had a bridging scheme to ensure employment between contracts. Wherever possible, contract researchers were employed on terms and conditions comparable to other academic related staff, the university added.

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