Some of Britain's most important medical research projects are threatened by a staff careers crisis, the Association of University Teachers claimed at its summer council in Eastbourne this week.
AUT general secretary David Triesman accused the Medical Research Council of "negligence" as the lecturers' union published a survey that found that two-thirds of the MRC's fixed-term contract research staff do not believe they have a future in research. Long working hours, inadequate training opportunities and poor career structures are creating a crisis in morale among the 60 per cent of MRC researchers who are on fixed-term contracts, the AUT said.
While almost 90 per cent said they wanted to pursue a career in research, 16.6 per cent said they were "not confident" that they will be able to remain in research as long as they wanted, compared with 11 per cent who were very confident about their career prospects.
"It should be of great concern to everyone, the MRC in particular, that a substantial proportion of the scientists involved in life-saving research see no long-term future in their chosen career," said Mr Triesman.
The AUT surveyed all 600 staff employed on fixed-term contracts by the MRC under its "science function" group and received 302 replies. Almost 80 per cent of respondents said they were disadvantaged by their contracts.
The survey revealed major problems with performance-related pay. Just 8.9 per cent of the researchers, paid an average of Pounds 24,600, were motivated by the staff performance and development pay system. This compared with 30 per cent who said it was demotivating and 39 per cent who said the system had not led to the salary increases they believed they deserved.
The survey also found that women were paid substantially less than men. While more than 60 per cent of women fell into the lowest two pay bands, fewer than half of the men did. Just 6 per cent of women fell into the higher bands, compared with 16 per cent of men.
Staff development was considered to be poor, with more respondents wishing for improved career structures than the number demanding higher pay.
Almost 40 per cent of respondents said they had never heard of the MRC's staff development policy, with 92 per cent reporting that they did not have an agreed personal training programme.