Career Paths for Scientists
67. While the increase to the PhD stipend is welcome,
a more serious problem lies with the pay and conditions for post-doctoral
scientists. Many of our witnesses have highlighted this problem.
Pay is very low. For example, post-doctoral research staff at
Imperial College are currently paid less than office receptionists
in Central London. More damaging still is the fact that many scientists
are perpetually on short-term contracts. This insecurity is bad
for morale, and it also creates mortgage difficulties and may
affect pension entitlement. Not surprisingly, many people opt
for more secure, and better paid, jobs in industry and commerce,
or go abroad, leading to recruitment and retention problems in
the UK science base. We note that the Education and Employment
Committee has highlighted the casualisation of higher education
staff contracts in its recent Report on student retention, and
has recommended that the Higher Education Funding Council for
England should investigate the reasons why higher education institutions
are employing more part-time and fixed-term staff.
We share the Committee's concern. The 1999 Bett Report (the independent
review of Higher Education pay and conditions) emphasised the
risk of significant recruitment and retention problems in the
"not too distant future" and called for extra investment
by Government to fund pay increases.
Excellence and Opportunity acknowledged
that the career development prospects for young researchers were
a cause for concern; and stated that the Government was encouraging
the universities and the Funding and Research Councils to promote
good practice in career development.
This is welcome, but not enough. The Government can no longer
afford to ignore the problem of low pay and poor job security
for post-doctoral researchers and support staff. A shortage of
skilled personnel threatens to undermine its commitment to strengthening
the science base.
68. We are also concerned that scientists who do
succeed in securing a permanent position, perhaps as a lecturer,
are often diverted away from research into broader teaching and
administrative duties. We do not wish to divorce research from
teaching. The very best scientists can often be brilliant at both
teaching and research. But others, though excellent in research,
are poor in communicating their learning to students; and some
are inspired teachers while unproductive in research. What
is important is to build on the strengths of the individual and
to accord equal value, and rewards, to both teaching and research.
69. We are aware that the Royal Society supports
some research professorships, which have no teaching commitments.
There may be a case too for creating career research posts for
younger scientists and engineers who demonstrate particular promise
in research. We are encouraged by Mr Byers's willingness to consider
the possibility of funding such posts.
We must identify promising researchers and fund them properly.
Funding should not be limited to projects, but should be available
for speculative, pre-project, exploratory research. Fellowships
should be available to support, and encourage, excellent researchers
through the difficult early years of their careers. We note that
Sir Gareth Roberts, President of Wolfson College Oxford, has been
asked to conduct an independent review of the supply of skilled
scientists and engineers in the UK, reporting by February 2002.
We welcome this review, and hope that it will address the need
to provide a proper career path for young scientists and engineers.
We must do more to support excellent scientists and engineers.
70. Excellence and Opportunity states the Government's
commitment to encouraging more scientists and engineers to come
to the UK, to study and then to stay on to work.
We welcome the measures taken to remove barriers imposed by immigration
and work permit rules. We also need to attract people who have
gone to work abroad back to the UK. We welcome the scheme, announced
in the recent Enterprise, Skills and Innovation White Paper, to
attract experienced British entrepreneurs back from abroad.
The need to attract skilled managers into the country has been
highlighted in recent meetings we have held with industrialists,
for example by the BioIndustry Association. The Government
must ensure that schemes to encourage experienced entrepreneurs
from abroad to come to the UK are not undermined by tax disincentives.