Contract Research Staff

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 1:16 pm on 22nd November 2001.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Brian Fitzpatrick Brian Fitzpatrick Labour 1:16 pm, 22nd November 2001

I am obliged for the extension of the debate, as are many other members who wish to speak.

The motions lodged by the convener of the Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Committee and Richard Simpson raise important issues. It is good that common themes are emerging on vital issues for Scotland in members' debates. That raises important issues about how we do things in and around Parliament. Debates on issues such as research, proof of concept and the personalisation of research funding, which are being considered by the Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Committee, reveal the innovation and scrutiny that the Parliament brings to issues that were sometimes placed on the back burner. I also pay tribute to the AUT in its campaigning role.

The minister will appreciate that all members are conscious that contract staff are often used to buffer the strain between demand and permanent faculty costs. I trust that he appreciates the consensus in the chamber that a competitive market for research funding is important, as David Davidson mentioned, but that it is also important to moderate the effects of competition on those that are sometimes less equipped to bear them. Ministers should reflect on that and report to Parliament on how best to retain, support and encourage research staff and on managing and funding research.

We will not retain some staff, but we benefit from the globalisation of research. A colleague of mine who was once at the University of Strathclyde, but who is currently in San Diego said, "You just cannae move the sun. I'm not coming back." We must reflect on that.

Alex Neil mentioned Jonathan Butler, who is an example of someone who has not been retained. He is the increasingly eminent son of Hilda and David Butler, who are not only in my constituency but are in my constituency Labour party circuit—those are two reasons to mention them.

Our institutions could not operate without contract research staff. One issue that we might consider in partnership with the AUT is how to get better data on who those groups are. We know that some derive all their income from various institutions. We do not want to lose the benefits of collaboration—the synergy work in and around Glasgow speaks volumes about the benefits of collaboration—but we want to know who makes up the growing group of contract researchers. A smaller group exists that supplements its income. As even the AUT would acknowledge, there are some who engage in research for its more diffuse rewards, if I can put it that way. We need better data.

I do not think that anyone is saying that all researchers should have permanent contracts—not all of them want permanent contracts—but the rationale should be found not only in administrative flexibility or in funding constraints.

Like Marilyn Livingstone, I am particularly interested in proceeding with work on gender divides in pay. A number of questions have been answered by the minister and I hope that we will have an opportunity to return to that subject in Richard Simpson's debate. In anticipation of that, I urge the minister to ensure that, if the Executive does not have figures on the pay divide, its gets them.