UK science base fails to realise its full potential

April 6, 2001

A serious skills shortage due to low PhD stipends and poor pay and conditions for postdoctoral scientists is threatening the United Kingdom's science base.

This is one of the conclusions of the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, which examined the impact of the 1993 white paper Realising Our Potential .

While it welcomed PhD stipend increases from 2003, the committee said, "£9,000, though tax free, is still not a very attractive salary. We believe it is still not enough to ensure the best graduates stay on to do doctoral research".

The committee highlighted low pay and poor job security for post-doctoral researchers, in particular at Imperial College, London, where they were paid less than office receptionists in central London. Many scientists were on short-term contracts leading to low morale and problems securing mortgages and pension plans. It said the government could no longer afford ignore these problems.

It also said that individuals who are good researchers but poor teachers should be encouraged to concentrate on research.

The report says barriers still exist for women in science, engineering and technology. It calls for positive discrimination in job opportunities and more flexible arrangements for women returning to work.

It found universities had improved on technology transfer and links with industry, but it was worried that the emphasis on wealth creation meant the pursuit of knowledge and promoting quality of life were neglected.

The report concludes: "It is clear the UK has not yet realised its potential."

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