Scottish contract culture continues

July 25, 2003

The proportion of researchers on short-term contracts in Scotland is likely to remain high despite demands that institutions take action to reduce it.

Most of Scotland's higher education institutions appear to have no plans to reform policy on fixed-term contracts nor to reduce the proportion of contract researchers before 2006. This is despite the Scottish Executive instructing them to cut down as far as possible the use of short-term contracts.

A Scottish Higher Education Funding Council report commissioned by ministers says data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency shows around 30 per cent of Scottish academics are contract researchers, compared with the UK average of 26 per cent.

The proportion of contract researchers in Scotland has been rising since 1998, which Shefc says is due to institutions' success in winning increased funding.

But only seven of the 18 higher education institutions say they are planning to revise or have already revised the way they use fixed- term contracts, or are aiming to reduce the proportion of staff on fixed-term contracts.

Only three say they have already substantially reduced the proportion of contract researchers, with five planning to improve researchers' career development.

Roger McClure, Shefc's chief executive, warned that some of the current Hesa data needed to be treated with caution since not all contract researchers might be identified as such.

The figures indicate that a disproportionate number of female and ethnic minority staff are on fixed-term contracts. In 2001-02, 45 per cent of contract research staff were women, compared with only 35 per cent of all academic staff. But around a fifth of contract research staff did not give information on ethnicity and the figures may not be representative of the total academic population.

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