Reliance on short-term contracts ‘unacceptable’
A House of Lords committee has warned that the precariousness of academic careers is exacerbating the UK’s growing skills gap in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
Colleagues also urged the government to extend post-graduation work visas and introduce a remote work visa to alleviate shortages.
The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee wrote to Science Secretary George Freeman to urge the government to fulfill its ambition to become a “science superpower”.
It states that the skills gap in the UK is long-standing and that the scale of the problem is not consistent with the “inadequate and fragmented” solutions currently on offer – including the postgraduate ‘New Deal’ for researchers.
The committee examines the precariousness and attractiveness of academic STEM careers in its report and says that the majority of graduate students and many postdocs will not advance to a permanent academic position.
As alternative avenues are hard to find, career guidance for graduate and post-doctoral students needs to be improved, and initiatives enabling time in industry should be expanded.
The committee says a lack of standardization and the temporary nature of most contracts contribute to career uncertainty, and that it is “unacceptable” to continue employing people on a series of short-term contracts.
The report also says visa costs for skilled workers and scientists are “unjustifiably high” compared to UK competitors.
It calls for reforms such as the ability to pay upfront costs over time, extend work visas after graduation and introduce a remote work visa.
The Lifelong Learning Loan was praised but feared that in tough economic times, working people might not feel able to take out a loan without further support.
It should therefore be geared towards shorter, modular and part-time courses, the committee adds.
Baroness Brown of Cambridge, chair of the committee, said: “Without an adequately skilled STEM workforce, we are hampering the potential to unlock productivity and economic growth, or to achieve net-zero, energy security or ‘science and technology superpower’ ambitions.
“Attracting and valuing STEM talent from overseas will be key to ensuring the UK achieves its science superpower ambitions – we need to be competitive as a destination for top talent.”