Contract Research Staff

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 1:11 pm on 22nd November 2001.

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Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat 1:11 pm, 22nd November 2001

Let me read part of a letter that I received from a constituent. It is one of a number of letters that I have received and I am sure that other members have had similar correspondence. My constituent writes:

"Both myself and my husband are contract researchers. We both live in your region, and I also work at"— she names one of the city's universities. She continues:

"Insecure, short term contracts have made it difficult for us to work in the same city, make decisions about buying a flat and make decisions about starting a family. Having a baby too close to the end of a contract means missing out on paid maternity leave and losing the right to return to finish the contract.

Please continue to take an interest in the problems of insecurity and lack of career structure in Scottish Universities and research units, which leads to a lot of stress for researchers and is grossly inefficient for employers."

This is an age in which, in many respects, we know the cost of everything and the value of nothing. It is an age of the short term and the short-sighted, where the cost accountant is king. As Donald Gorrie said, the problem is not limited to university researchers. It began in the building industry, with the insidious device of so-called self-employed tradesmen, essentially to pass the risk of the ebbs and flows of contracts from the companies to the work force. It was not a good idea there, it is not a good idea for our young teachers, doctors or nurses, and it is certainly not a good idea for research staff on short-term contracts. A greater impetus to the brain drain and to our brightest stars opting out of research and teaching cannot possibly be imagined.

It is time to take a fundamentally different approach, in partnership with employers and staff. Perhaps we should use the funding mechanisms in a more strategic way to ensure that there is a framework that offers security of employment combined with flexibility of task for those who contribute to research and teach at our universities. Nothing—but nothing—is more vital to Scotland's future.