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Publication Details

Reference
Collinson, Jacquelyn Allen (2000) Social Science Contract Researchers in Higher Education: Perceptions of Craft Knowledge. Work, Employment & Society Vol. 14, No. 1, pp. 159–171: 1-13.

Summary
The past two decades have witnessed a trend towards the use of fixedterm
and part-time contracts in higher education in the UK, where over a
third of routine academic work is now carried out by staff on fixed-term
contracts (Ainley 1994). As Kogan et al. (1994: 53) have noted, this
increased casualisation of academic labour has been driven by the need for
universities and colleges to reduce labour costs. The move towards a more
‘flexible’ and cheaper workforce is largely a response to governmental
resource restrictions and the need to cope with increased student numbers
(Kogan et al. 1994). In order to cope with financial pressures, universities
have increasingly sought to diversify their funding and become more
entrepreneurial in attracting income from sources other than the government
(Wasser 1990; Ziman 1991). External research grants and contracts
play an increasingly important role in the finances of many institutions,
with a concomitant rise in the number of researchers employed on fixedterm
contracts.
In the UK, numbers have been growing since the 1970s (Norris et al.
1992), with currently over 35,000 of these researchers across all academic
disciplines. In 1995/96, nearly 4,000 academic staff in the social sciences
were on fixed-term contracts, which included a research element, and
2,400 of these were employed exclusively on research (HESA 1995/96).
Moreover, there are indications that the occupational structure of contract
research reflects wider social disparities, with women under-represented at
senior research grades and over-represented at junior levels (Court et al.
1996: 25).
Despite increasing numbers of contract researchers, their importance
for the research profile of universities and colleges and the publication of a
concordat on their career management (CVCP 1996), relatively little
research has been published on the occupational lives of this marginalised
group. Knowledge generally centres upon the inequalities suffered by
fixed-term staff in comparison to academics employed on ‘permanent’
contracts. Poor salaries, reduced holidays and sickness benefits, lack of
security, little if any career development, and inadequate pension provision are some of the factors which make it difficult for most researchers to
tolerate their marginalised status for the duration of a ‘career’ in academia.
It is considered an inefficient system for training and maintaining a
skilled research workforce (NATFHE n.d; Norris et al. 1992; Ransom
1992; AUT 1995) when so many well-qualified, trained researchers are
driven to leave research at a relatively early age due to lack of economic
security. Additionally, it is also highly wasteful for the higher education
system when the employment of skilled and talented researchers is so fragmented
(Pettigrew 1994), and the quality of research output is negatively
affected by researchers’ worries about job security (NATFHE 1995).
Contract researchers represent a ‘growing pool of expertise’ (Pettigrew
1994: 48), and yet little is known about the intricacies and complexities of
their occupational lives (Brown 1994). As Delamont et al. (1994) have
observed, knowledge about the reproduction of academic occupational
culture is sparse, and has concentrated upon teaching staff, paying scant
attention to other occupational cultures within the higher education sector
(Delamont 1996).

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