DOZENS of young contract researchers have lost their jobs in Northern Ireland's two universities over recent months, and more job loses are imminent.
In an attack on cuts to research funding in the province, Gerry McKenna, pro-vice chancellor of research at the University of Ulster, said both Queen's University and Ulster were being forced to "release" substantial numbers of researchers at the end of their three-year contracts even though many projects were ongoing.
Ulster University has lost 50 researchers. Queen's confirmed that a "substantial number" of jobs had gone.
"The funds to keep them in place are no longer available," said Professor McKenna, pointing to the 16 per cent cuts to research funding announced in 1996. Special regional development funding which was to be spent on research was clawed back by the Northern Ireland Office because of the resumption of violence in the province and an increased security bill. Research in 1997/98 was cut by Pounds 4 million, with a further Pounds 2 million cut threatened for 1998/99.
Professor McKenna said: "Every Pounds 1 we receive in block grant from government enables us to attract Pounds 1.20 in external funding. These cuts could therefore be losing the Northern Ireland universities a total of Pounds 9 million."
He called for the government to reverse the cuts. "At a time when we're trying to rebuild the economy, when we're trying to attract the kind of high technology inward investment on which the future of the province depends, to be cutting the research base is extremely shortsighted," he said.
A spokesman for the Department of Education, Northern Ireland, said: "The question of research funding for Northern Ireland universities is being examined as a specific aspect within the context of the Comprehensive Spending Review."