Improving the public labour market for researchers
Human resource constraint is considered the most pressing challenge of the Spanish research and innovation (R&I) system. Three main reasons have been proposed to be the principal causes of this challenge.
The first one is directly linked to the economic crisis. Since 2008, the main consequence of research and development (R&D) budget reductions has been the non-renewal of temporary researchers’ contracts. This has resulted in a drastic reduction in the possibilities for young researchers to obtain a stable position of employment. Since 2010, the employment rate for those with a PhD qualification has been constantly decreasing, while the number of students graduating with a PhD has increased every year, from 7 150 in 2007 to 9 483 in 2012.
The second factor has a more systemic nature and is linked to the structure of the research system. The Spanish labour market for researchers is characterised by a singular duality. On one hand, civil servants form the core permanent staff at universities and public research organisations (PROs). On the other hand, non-civil servants, most often young researchers, are generally contracted temporarily. This duality is accompanied by a change, over time, in the possibility of obtaining a civil servant position (which can be obtained only through public competition); this means that the career of a researcher in Spain is highly dependent on the availability of permanent positions. Since the beginning of the economic crisis, the availability of such positions has been very limited because of budget restrictions. Furthermore, while formally the recruitment process for permanent research positions at university is open, in reality tacit mechanisms favour insiders (i.e. researchers from the same university) rather than external candidates. Of the EU Member States, Spain has one of the highest rates of endogamy in its university system (measured by the proportion of staff that obtained their PhD in the university at which they work).
Finally, the third factor that explains the increasing unemployment rate among recently graduated PhD researchers is the limited access to research project funds for researchers with temporary contracts. Generally, application processes for project funding favour researchers with permanent positions. This requirement drastically reduces the options for young researchers with regard to applying for funding.
In the last few years, Spain has deployed a number of formal policy responses to improve, among other things, the public labour market for researchers. Law 14/2011 on Science, Technology and Innovation, and, subsequently, two strategic documents, namely the Spanish Strategy for Science, Technology and Innovation (2013–2020) and the National/State Plan for Scientific, Technical Research and Innovation (2013–2016), have established or reinforced several instruments for strengthening human resources for science, technology and innovation (STI), including additional resources for doctoral and postdoctoral training grants and the introduction of mobility schemes. Among these, the ‘Ramón y Cajal’ contracts facilitate the recruitment of national and foreign researchers. They include an initial grant to start a research project in Spain and an additional EUR 100 000 for institutions that award researchers permanent contracts after five years of activity. In addition, Law 14/2011 on Science, Technology and Innovation confirmed the ‘Profesor Contratado Doctor’ contract, created in 2001, and included the ‘Investigador distinguido’ contract, in order to offer stable contracts to non-civil servant researchers. To complement these measures, the government increased the replacement rate for retirees from 10% to a maximum of 50% for 2015 and to a maximum of 100% for 2016.
At the same time as the adoption of these strategic policy documents meant to improve the human resource situation in the public research system, drastic budget cuts often hindered the implementation of these policies. As a result, the demography of the research system remains a pressing problem for Spanish R&I.
Throughout the research system (i.e. institutes and universities), an alternative path is needed to move research careers away from the standard civil service model. This could include the further strengthening of positions such as the ‘Professor Contratado Doctor’ or the further implementation of the ‘Contrato de investigador distinguido’ envisaged by Law 14/2011. So far, the number of such positions is very low and they have not been translated into stable contracts.