Organ, Michael K. and Svensen, Stuart, Research assistants in the clever country, Department of Economics, University of Wollongong, Working Paper 95-4, 1995, 17.
This paper examines the employment conditions of research assistants in universities in the context of the stated intention of the Australian government to transform Australia into the 'clever country'. Research assistants have played an important role in Australia's research efforts. The growing teaching and administrative workloads of academic staff, and the increasing sophistication and complexity of research methodologies, have increased the demands on research assistants and the importance of their contribution. Despite this, there has been little improvement in the employment conditions of research assistants. These conditions include the absence of any job security; lack of career structure and development; and insufficient recognition of qualifications, experience and skills. Research assistants have no common career structure, some being employed under academic staff conditions, others under general staff conditions and some as neither. Union coverage of research assistants is divided between several unions, making effective representation difficult. The rules of the funding agencies, the Australian Research Council and the National Health and Medical Council are inconsistent with award conditions of research assistants which specify that prior experience must be taken into account when determining initial salary levels. These sub-standard employment conditions act as deterrents to talented researchers undertaking or continuing careers in research, and thus undermine Australia's research effort. The reports of several government inquiries into university research activity are analysed, and are found to be inadequately researched and to provide no solutions to the problems outlined. Suggestions for the provision of a viable career structure for researchers are provided. It is concluded that the development of Australia as a 'clever country' depends to a large extent on research workers becoming more actively involved in the promotion of improved conditions of employment.