Data Check: New Quebec survey on university research staff

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In Ontario, about half of salaries for sponsored research at universities is paid to “other instruction and research” staff. Little is known about them, but a survey of research professionals at Québec universities and affiliated research centres provides some insight.

The survey was developed by several interested unions in the province. Of the one thousand-plus respondents, 43 per cent were 25-35 years of age; 56 per cent were over 35 years old. The survey found that 83 per cent of respondents had a graduate degree of some kind, while 27 per cent held a doctorate. A greater proportion of men were involved in science and engineering research, with 51 per cent active in those fields as compared to 29 per cent of women. The largest proportion of women was in the social sciences and humanities and in health research: 37 and 31 per cent, compared to 23 and 24 per cent, respectively, for men.

Almost half of male respondents earned more than $55,000; only 29 per cent of women made that much. Almost a third of female and 20 per cent of male professionals were part-time. That a higher proportion of men have a doctorate and almost twice the rate of degrees in science and engineering might explain some of the difference. Family responsibilities also play a role: while 13 per cent of women identified child care as a reason for working part-time in the profession, the rate amongst men was virtually nil.

The report found that research professionals undertake a wide range of research activities, including authorship of scientific reports for more than half of them, yet have little job security and few prospects for advancement. It is hard to miss the parallels with academic staff with part-time teaching contracts: inadequate and unstable funding produces the same result for employment.

While the data is from Quebec, it is reasonable to suspect that similar trends are at work in Ontario. Non-faculty research work, like all academic jobs, should be good jobs. We need to better understand this group of employees, and work to ensure they have quality working conditions.

Sources:
Council of Finance Officers – Universities of Ontario, Financial Report of Ontario Universities
Paul-André Lapointe, Chedli Baya Chatti, Hans Ivers, Étude sur la situation des professionelles et professionels de recherche dans les universités et centres affiliés du Quebec

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