The Association of Researchers in Medicine and Science (Arms) this week called for fundamental changes in the organisation and funding of university research.
The association said the current situation was "a recipe for disaster" with universities relying on individuals' enthusiasm for their research as a way to overcome poor salaries and inadequate career progression.
Failing to take action would lead inevitably to "a decline in the training and recruitment of home-based research staff and their substitution by overseas staff", according to the association.
Peter Campbell, a past chairman, said the association wanted universities "to take the same kind of responsibility for their research workers that they do for their teaching staff". He said that without this level of commitment there would soon be "very serious recruitment problems".
Arms said that, based on information given in the THES league tables, it was clear that the more research income a university received, the greater the proportion of its staff that were employed on short-term contracts. "This is not a sensible way for the UK to conduct its research," the association said.
Arms blamed universities for the lack of a career structure for contract research staff and claimed resources were being wasted in training skilled individuals who did not continue in research.
The association said it wanted universities to create professional research posts and have research committees that would oversee all aspects of their research.
It also called for all research councils and charities to provide realistic overheads to help fund these developments.