Technical erosion reaches crisis

October 9, 1998

The erosion of technical staff from universities should be halted immediately, according to the Royal Society.

The number of university-funded technicians and scientific support staff fell by a third between 1982 and 1994. At the same time, the number of university-funded academic staff remained roughly constant and the number of contract researchers rose by more than a third.

"There must be no further reduction in technical and research support," stated the society in a report published last week. "We consider there is a real danger that any further reduction in numbers would lead to a reduction in the quality of United Kingdom scientific research (and indeed in teaching, because of the work of technicians in support of teaching)."

To halt the exodus, the funding councils should consider how to protect the funding levels for technicians, it recommended. And the research assessment exercise should be overhauled.

Bahram Bekhradnia, director of policy at the Higher Education Funding Council for England, said: "We are in the process of carrying out a long-term review of the RAE. These are two key points that we shall bear in mind."

The Royal Society also suggested that all the research councils should adopt the new longer-term funding schemes that have been introduced by the Medical Research Council. These include centre grants to support multidisciplinary research groups in universities, and co-operative group grants that aim to bring together a critical mass of researchers from different groups and establishments.

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