Scheme 'failed to alleviate' job fears

August 8, 2003

The government's research careers initiative has failed to improve the security of contract researchers in universities, the chair of the Commons science and technology committee said this week, writes Anna Fazackerley.

The initiative, chaired by Sir Gareth Roberts, was launched in 1997 to monitor the implementation of the terms of the 1996 concordat on the management of staff on fixed-term contracts.

In its final report, published this week, the group concluded that it had played a key role in raising awareness of the need for universities to change their employment culture.

But Ian Gibson, who chaired the Commons committee, which conducted an inquiry into short-term research contracts last year, said such statements were misguided.

He told The THES : "The researchers I've met don't feel any safer in terms of having a career that is longer than their grant. I haven't seen many universities respond to this. Many young people feel it is still a major barrier."

Dr Gibson called for a name-and-shame approach to universities who are still not doing anything positive to address the problems of contract research staff.

The research careers initiative report says that higher education institutions have developed good practice models in the provision of staff appraisal, in-service training, personal transferable skills, and career guidance for staff employed on short-term contracts.

There are now named research careers initiative advisers in about 100 institutions. But Sir Gareth said the strategy group noted that more work was needed in this area.

To this end, the final report calls for the initiative's objectives to be taken forward by a subgroup of the new funders' forum. The report recommends that the Association of University Teachers be included in this subgroup.

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