Contract Research Staff

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 12:56 pm on 22nd November 2001.

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Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party 12:56 pm, 22nd November 2001

As is customary, I congratulate my colleague Alex Neil on the motion. I am conscious that other members wish to speak and I am grateful to the Presiding Officer for allowing a motion to extend the debate. The level of attendance at the debate is testimony to the interest in it. This has been one of the best-attended members' business debates for a while.

I go along with the points that were made eloquently by my colleague Alex Neil and by others. A crisis is pending in higher education. As he said, talent is haemorrhaging and there is a brain drain. Unless that is addressed, we will all pay the price in our communities and in the economy.

There is a danger of a collapse in morale in the AUT and among those who work in the sector. As others such as Des McNulty and Tavish Scott—members from different parties—have said, discussion of the matter has been postponed and those in the lecturer circuit say that that cannot continue.

McCrone dealt with the situation in primary and secondary education. That is causing an imbalance. We must recognise that salaries must be dealt with. We cannot continue to allow people to work on the basis that doing so is virtuous, that the institution in which they work is virtuous and that they are contributing to a greater cause. Those people must be rewarded.

We must recognise why such work is important. Alex Neil talked about the importance of research, which is fundamental. Contract research staff do policy work that is important not only to the Executive, but to members of the Parliament, whether on the Government benches or not. Contract research staff provide the knowledge and the basis on which we conduct much of our work.

Contract research staff also deal with a growing teaching load. The idea that research staff and teaching staff are differentiated is not often borne out. It must be factored into consideration that research staff do some teaching.

Tavish Scott mentioned that security of employment can be just as important as the rate of pay. People in any employment will say that their terms and conditions are often as important as the pay that they receive. An extremely highly paid individual who works in a stressful situation in an institution that does not meet health and safety regulations may not wish to remain with that institution. We must address that.

As Alex Neil and Tavish Scott said, we must deal with pay. The minister must take it on board that clearer directions must be given to SHEFC. Blunkett was clearer in his directions about pay than the Executive has been. That must be addressed.

We cannot simply place all the blame on the institutions. I agree with what David Davidson said about the underfunding of research. Research is significantly underfunded by the state and its funding is in deficit. I understand that the figures vary by institution between 39 per cent and 90 per cent. Until we increase funding for research, we will not have enough money for those at the coalface. I therefore support the motion.