Researcher: 'I was used'

November 6, 1998

The University of Birmingham "exploited" an award-winning academic's fixed-term contract to boost its research assessment exercise results on the cheap, it has been claimed.

Saeed Fararooy, a research fellow and lecturer on a three-year contract at the university's school of electrical and electronic engineering, had secured funding for an Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council flagship project.

But last month the EPSRC criticised the university for breaking its rules by terminating Dr Fararooy's employment before the project - where Dr Fararooy was principal investigator - had finished. The university also switched the project to a permanent researcher without consulting the EPSRC, breaching the rules.

In a letter to Birmingham vice-chancellor Maxwell Irvine last month, Dr Fararooy claimed that he had been "used" and his insecure contract had been exploited. The university gained a research grant, so improving its chances of a high RAE rating.

On October 8, Peter Bates, the EPSRC's engineering programmes head, wrote to Peter Evans, head of the school, and called for an explanation as to why rules were breached. Mr Bates points out that the EPSRC's Guide to Research Grants states that fixed-term employees are only eligible for research grants if the EPSRC "can be satisfied that the host organisation is prepared to give the individual all the support normal for an investigator". Also the term of employment "must be at least until the end of the grant".

But when applying for the EPSRC grant in Dr Fararooy's name, Birmingham did not inform the funding council that he was on a fixed-term contract that would expire ten months before the project. "It would appear," wrote the EPSRC, "that the university allowed a proposal to be submitted to EPSRC in the name of an investigator who was at the time ineligible to be an investigator under EPSRC rules, and did not provide the investigator with the continuing support that EPSRC expects."

The research council was also "concerned" that the project had been transferred to a new investigator without consultation.

The university said Dr Fararooy's contract was not extended because of "uncertainty over overseas student recruitment in future and the effect of this on the size of the school" when it settled out of court with Dr Fararooy on October 13, paying him Pounds 1,097.

The university also stressed that Dr Fararooy, who won an award for teaching excellence in 1997, had declined its offer of a two-year appointment as a research fellow which "met his requirements, except that it was not a lectureship". The appointment would have been for only two days a week, and Dr Fararooy maintains it was not suitable.

A spokesman for the university said that "there are no matters outstanding" between Dr Fararooy, who is now working in a private consultancy, and the university, as his relationship with the university was "finished".

David Harman, from the EPSRC, said the project would stay with Birmingham.

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