Contract Research Staff

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 12:49 pm on 22nd November 2001.

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Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat 12:49 pm, 22nd November 2001

No, I only have two or three minutes and David Davidson has had his turn.

In a former life, I worked as a contract staff member for the then Scottish Development Agency. In my own position, the contract did not matter at all. However, I remember the concern of many members of the then SDA who did have a difficulty with being contract staff because they had worries about their future. Alex Neil's statistic about 40 per cent of research staff looking for a new position at any one time is a sobering statistic for public policy. As has been said, that statistic must be addressed.

I am conscious that many colleagues wish to speak. I will just make two points. First, the AUT is to be commended for making a range of proposals. Government is often asked to fix something but those who are doing the asking never seem to suggest how it can be fixed. In fairness, the AUT has suggested a number of different models for addressing this difficult issue. I hope that the minister will consider those options when winding up and enlighten the chamber as to how the issue is being pursued.

Secondly, I raise the issue of the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council. I acknowledge that the council has introduced the contract research staff initiative, which has considered the management and redundancy issues surrounding contract staff. However, on the basis of information that I have received, is that enough? Could more not be done in that area, given that there are 5,000 fixed-term contract staff? Again, I hope that the minister will update Parliament on what is happening through SHEFC and what progress is being made on the career progression survey that I believe is under way, or nearly concluded.

Scottish universities are multi-million pound institutions. They receive many hundreds of millions of pounds from the public purse. I believe in the spirit of the remarks made by other members. We should value those essential members of academia in their building of a stronger and more economically viable Scotland.