Declining attractiveness of UK academia

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Bird on a Fire
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Declining attractiveness of UK academia

Post by Bird on a Fire » Tue Nov 23, 2021 11:02 am

A topic of interest to me as I start shopping around for post-docs. I think there are various causes, alluded to in this article:

UK visa scheme for prize-winning scient ... plications
“This is exactly what our new point-based immigration system was designed for – attracting the best and brightest based on the skills and talent they have, not where they’ve come from.”

But a freedom of information request by New Scientist has revealed that in the six months since the scheme was launched, no one working in science, engineering, the humanities or medicine has actually applied for a visa through this route.

“Chances that a single Nobel or Turing laureate would move to the UK to work are zero for the next decade or so,” says Andre Geim at the University of Manchester, UK. Geim won a Nobel prize in 2010 for his work on graphene. “The scheme itself is a joke – it cannot be discussed seriously,” he says. “The government thinks if you pump up UK science with a verbal diarrhea of optimism – it can somehow become a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

“Frankly, having precisely zero people apply for this elitist scheme doesn’t surprise me at all,” says Jessica Wade, a material scientist at Imperial College London and a diversity in science campaigner. “UK scientists’ access to European funding is uncertain, we’re not very attractive to European students as they have to pay international fees, our pensions are being cut and scientific positions in the UK are both rare and precarious.”

“It’s clear this is just another gimmick from a government that over-spins and under delivers,” says shadow science minister Chi Onwurah. “It is not surprising that the government has failed so comprehensively to attract scientists from abroad, given their lack of consistent support for scientists here.”
I'm not overly interested in the fast-track scheme itself, which seems like a stupid idea designed to appeal to the Tory press rather than actual scientists.

But with relatively low wages, precarious positions, poor conditions (eg workloads and pensions), uncertain funding opportunities, dysfunctionally overcrowded campuses etc etc it's quite low down the list even for someone like me who wouldn't need a visa.

Most of my friends from undergrad who stayed in academia have left the country already - including to places like Australia and the US, so I don't think visas are a big deal. I got them easily as a student and wouldn't anticipate any great problem as a highly qualified worker.

Obviously brexit is terrible optics and has added some extra sh.t into the mix, but it's also a done deal that'll just have to be worked around. The bigger problems seem to be related to domestic problems, stemming back to the 2010 coalition's fee changes and austerity.

Austerity seems to be largely out of favour, with scattershot populism in its place. Perhaps there's a way out of this mess?
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Re: Declining attractiveness of UK academia

Post by plodder » Tue Nov 23, 2021 11:12 am

From an outsider's perspective academia is structurally f.cked as a career. It seems to be ego-driven, unfair, extremely precarious, driven by in-crowds and patronage and weighted heavily against new entrants. A friend spent years on part time, temporary contracts before he got tenure, and his salary is still way below what he could earn in the private sector. I don't know if this is exclusively a UK problem but I understand it's something that's got worse over the last 10-15 years which I suspect would coincide roughly with the way universities are funded. I'm willing to bet the two are linked.

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Re: Declining attractiveness of UK academia

Post by Bird on a Fire » Tue Nov 23, 2021 11:17 am

Bird on a Fire wrote:
Tue Nov 23, 2021 11:02 am
Perhaps there's a way out of this mess?
One difference I've noticed during my perigrinations is that UK academics tend to be based at university departments, whereas in the continent its often commoner for them to belong to dedicated research institutions.

e.g. in Portugal everyone PhD-level and up is based at an institution with a particular area of focus, that necessarily involves collaboration between at least two universities and often have their own buildings, facilities and sites. French researchers are often at CNRS centres, Spanish ones at CSIC ones, and I know a few people who've moved to Norway and the Netherlands who also have their main base away from campus.

At my second academic home in the UK, they already have post-docs hot-desking and professors in portakabins and entire departments forced to cohabit unsuitable spaces because everywhere is gummed up with overcharged undergraduates the government is forcing to bankroll the operation (with some added fake debt sleight-of-hand, though I'm not convinced that'll last forever).

Perhaps if academics were based at academic institutions, rather than teaching centres, and were once again able to organise their own budgets and workloads and so on - with teaching being one of several possible funding streams - UK academia could be more normal, modern and perhaps even attractive?

Obviously the devil would be in the details. It would need a genuine, large wodge of actual new money from somewhere - but being a shiny exciting new whizzbang caper would help to appeal to the attention-deficit homunculi in the Johnson administration. The scientific stuff should be largely controlled by academics, who know how things work, rather than politicians and their private sector nob mates. And so on.

I've no problem with teaching per se, and IME it's done to a very high standard in the UK - my international student friends are ubiquitously impressed with the quality too (but often struggle with the intensity of e.g. trying to fit a whole MSc, including research project, into a single year instead of the more normal 2+). But using it as the economic base to find research centres seems to be closely linked to the decline in satisfaction and attractiveness I've noticed anecdotally over the last decade, and it seems to be reflected in stats.
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Re: Declining attractiveness of UK academia

Post by Bird on a Fire » Tue Nov 23, 2021 11:21 am

plodder wrote:
Tue Nov 23, 2021 11:12 am
From an outsider's perspective academia is structurally f.cked as a career. It seems to be ego-driven, unfair, extremely precarious, driven by in-crowds and patronage and weighted heavily against new entrants. A friend spent years on part time, temporary contracts before he got tenure, and his salary is still way below what he could earn in the private sector. I don't know if this is exclusively a UK problem but I understand it's something that's got worse over the last 10-15 years which I suspect would coincide roughly with the way universities are funded. I'm willing to bet the two are linked.
Oh yes, like other creative industries it's a total basket case. The salaries are generally low, but the work is different - compare being an artist with designing adverts for supermarkets.

Things like precarity, toxicity, fairness, work-life balance, gender equity, etc etc are all serious problems, but I get the impression that many of them are worse in the UK, and backsliding, than in the rest of NW Europe. (And often far worse in the US, as you'd expect, but that seems to be the UK's lords' and masters' preferred direction of travel).
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Re: Declining attractiveness of UK academia

Post by plodder » Tue Nov 23, 2021 12:16 pm

Bird on a Fire wrote:
Tue Nov 23, 2021 11:21 am
plodder wrote:
Tue Nov 23, 2021 11:12 am
From an outsider's perspective academia is structurally f.cked as a career. It seems to be ego-driven, unfair, extremely precarious, driven by in-crowds and patronage and weighted heavily against new entrants. A friend spent years on part time, temporary contracts before he got tenure, and his salary is still way below what he could earn in the private sector. I don't know if this is exclusively a UK problem but I understand it's something that's got worse over the last 10-15 years which I suspect would coincide roughly with the way universities are funded. I'm willing to bet the two are linked.
Oh yes, like other creative industries it's a total basket case. The salaries are generally low, but the work is different - compare being an artist with designing adverts for supermarkets.

Things like precarity, toxicity, fairness, work-life balance, gender equity, etc etc are all serious problems, but I get the impression that many of them are worse in the UK, and backsliding, than in the rest of NW Europe. (And often far worse in the US, as you'd expect, but that seems to be the UK's lords' and masters' preferred direction of travel).
Artists don't work for institutes or agencies (although they do sometimes get sponsored) - on the whole they tend to be freelance.

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Re: Declining attractiveness of UK academia

Post by Bird on a Fire » Tue Nov 23, 2021 12:27 pm

Yes, it's not a perfect analogy.

Science grants are often awarded to individual researchers rather than projects/institutions, though, especially at the beginning of careers.

But, taking my own career as an example, I have three main options for my next steps:
1. Design a project based on my interests and experience, and try to find funding
2. Apply for a position working for a more senior academic's project
3. Leave academia to work for an NGO (more worthy, potentially quite interesting, but even worse pay then academia), local government (better pay than NGOs, huge potential to be very useful, but large variation in institutional culture) or a corporation (can pay well after entry-level, but very little of it is particularly useful for conservation and a lot of it is actively damaging).

The big trade-offs are ease-vs-autonomy, and usefulness-vs-salary. Which seems to be a general feature of the economy anyway, but academia has a lot of options to "do whatever you like", as long as you can convince someone else to pay you to do it ;)
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Re: Declining attractiveness of UK academia

Post by Woodchopper » Tue Nov 23, 2021 12:38 pm

Bird on a Fire wrote:
Tue Nov 23, 2021 11:21 am
plodder wrote:
Tue Nov 23, 2021 11:12 am
From an outsider's perspective academia is structurally f.cked as a career. It seems to be ego-driven, unfair, extremely precarious, driven by in-crowds and patronage and weighted heavily against new entrants. A friend spent years on part time, temporary contracts before he got tenure, and his salary is still way below what he could earn in the private sector. I don't know if this is exclusively a UK problem but I understand it's something that's got worse over the last 10-15 years which I suspect would coincide roughly with the way universities are funded. I'm willing to bet the two are linked.
Oh yes, like other creative industries it's a total basket case. The salaries are generally low, but the work is different - compare being an artist with designing adverts for supermarkets.

Things like precarity, toxicity, fairness, work-life balance, gender equity, etc etc are all serious problems, but I get the impression that many of them are worse in the UK, and backsliding, than in the rest of NW Europe. (And often far worse in the US, as you'd expect, but that seems to be the UK's lords' and masters' preferred direction of travel).
Just based upon people I know, pay and conditions are better than the UK in the Nordic countries and Switzerland. But I don't get the impression that things are worse in the UK than in Germany, Belgium, France etc. I don't know Portugal, but pay and conditions appear to be much worse in Italy and Spain, and in Central and Eastern Europe. Pay and conditions for tenured staff are much better in the US than the UK, but to get there aspiring professors have to get into a winning position in ruthless competition. Australia seems like a great place to work, and I'm acquainted with a few distinguished British academics who've moved there.

In terms of job opportunities in Europe, British early-career academics are usually in a far worse position applying for jobs abroad than their European counterparts applying for jobs in the UK. In the great majority of degree courses teaching is in the local national language (eg German bachelors courses are usually taught in German). By the time a European academic has a PhD they will frequently be fluent in English and can apply for UK teaching positions, but few British PhDs are fluent in a second European language, so their job opportunities are limited.

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Re: Declining attractiveness of UK academia

Post by Woodchopper » Tue Nov 23, 2021 12:42 pm

plodder wrote:
Tue Nov 23, 2021 11:12 am
From an outsider's perspective academia is structurally f.cked as a career. It seems to be ego-driven, unfair, extremely precarious, driven by in-crowds and patronage and weighted heavily against new entrants. A friend spent years on part time, temporary contracts before he got tenure, and his salary is still way below what he could earn in the private sector. I don't know if this is exclusively a UK problem but I understand it's something that's got worse over the last 10-15 years which I suspect would coincide roughly with the way universities are funded. I'm willing to bet the two are linked.
Yes, indeed. People in academia are are usually motivated by aspects of job satisfaction rather than the hours, pay or conditions.

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Re: Declining attractiveness of UK academia

Post by plodder » Tue Nov 23, 2021 12:51 pm

Bird on a Fire wrote:
Tue Nov 23, 2021 12:27 pm
Yes, it's not a perfect analogy.

Science grants are often awarded to individual researchers rather than projects/institutions, though, especially at the beginning of careers.

But, taking my own career as an example, I have three main options for my next steps:
1. Design a project based on my interests and experience, and try to find funding
2. Apply for a position working for a more senior academic's project
3. Leave academia to work for an NGO (more worthy, potentially quite interesting, but even worse pay then academia), local government (better pay than NGOs, huge potential to be very useful, but large variation in institutional culture) or a corporation (can pay well after entry-level, but very little of it is particularly useful for conservation and a lot of it is actively damaging).

The big trade-offs are ease-vs-autonomy, and usefulness-vs-salary. Which seems to be a general feature of the economy anyway, but academia has a lot of options to "do whatever you like", as long as you can convince someone else to pay you to do it ;)
This is a familiar list and it's basically how much you want to engage with and change the here and now, or how much you want to focus on the future.

It's not the case that private sector ecologists are actively damaging the environment, but they are paid to understand and navigate the numerous various legal and regulatory constraints around environmental law. Their public sector counterparts at NE, the EA etc do a similar thing to be honest, for worse pay but better pensions etc and I've not seen much cynicism from one side towards the other - however I do work for reputable firms, reputable clients etc, rather than Shithead Housing Developments PLC. One thing I will say about working on the regulatory side is that it looks pretty stressful due to chronic underfunding.

If you want to Follow Your DreamsTM you'll get there in the end but you'll need to be far more determined and persistent. I'd go for it if you've got a good idea, there's plenty of time to change tack and good people will always be in demand.

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Re: Declining attractiveness of UK academia

Post by warumich » Tue Nov 23, 2021 7:47 pm

Woodchopper wrote:
Tue Nov 23, 2021 12:38 pm
Bird on a Fire wrote:
Tue Nov 23, 2021 11:21 am
plodder wrote:
Tue Nov 23, 2021 11:12 am
From an outsider's perspective academia is structurally f.cked as a career. It seems to be ego-driven, unfair, extremely precarious, driven by in-crowds and patronage and weighted heavily against new entrants. A friend spent years on part time, temporary contracts before he got tenure, and his salary is still way below what he could earn in the private sector. I don't know if this is exclusively a UK problem but I understand it's something that's got worse over the last 10-15 years which I suspect would coincide roughly with the way universities are funded. I'm willing to bet the two are linked.
Oh yes, like other creative industries it's a total basket case. The salaries are generally low, but the work is different - compare being an artist with designing adverts for supermarkets.

Things like precarity, toxicity, fairness, work-life balance, gender equity, etc etc are all serious problems, but I get the impression that many of them are worse in the UK, and backsliding, than in the rest of NW Europe. (And often far worse in the US, as you'd expect, but that seems to be the UK's lords' and masters' preferred direction of travel).
Just based upon people I know, pay and conditions are better than the UK in the Nordic countries and Switzerland. But I don't get the impression that things are worse in the UK than in Germany, Belgium, France etc. I don't know Portugal, but pay and conditions appear to be much worse in Italy and Spain, and in Central and Eastern Europe. Pay and conditions for tenured staff are much better in the US than the UK, but to get there aspiring professors have to get into a winning position in ruthless competition. Australia seems like a great place to work, and I'm acquainted with a few distinguished British academics who've moved there.

In terms of job opportunities in Europe, British early-career academics are usually in a far worse position applying for jobs abroad than their European counterparts applying for jobs in the UK. In the great majority of degree courses teaching is in the local national language (eg German bachelors courses are usually taught in German). By the time a European academic has a PhD they will frequently be fluent in English and can apply for UK teaching positions, but few British PhDs are fluent in a second European language, so their job opportunities are limited.

All that, plus central European academia is still very nepotistic - don't want to propagate unwarranted stereotypes of Italy or France, but I have plenty of friends from these countries who did their PhDs here and have given up finding a job in their home country because they haven't got the right connections through their supervisors. Certainly that's the case for Germany too. Plus German academic career structures are nuts, there's no real middle ground between research assistant and full blown professor, so people spend up to their late fourties on insecure contracts. My cousin has two PhDs, published several books, sits on the academic committee of a very influential ngo, but only holds an ad hoc position at a University at the other end of the country from his wife.

Australian academia is not a happy place either at the moment from what I hear, certainly not for the social sciences. UWA is closing whole departments, so the UK job market is currently getting flooded with desperate Aussie CVs (we'll have a colleague from UWA joining us next year).
US academia, no thanks. Personally I find the tenure process off-putting, and the higher salaries are for me offset by the abysmal social welfare system. If I got headhunted by Yale, I wouldn't go.

Tldr it's probably sh.t everywhere, apart from Netherlands, Nordic countries, Switzerland and a handful other places I suppose. Unless you're a research superstar who can just waltz into a position in Europe, it'll be difficult to escape.
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Re: Declining attractiveness of UK academia

Post by Chris Preston » Wed Nov 24, 2021 3:29 am

warumich wrote:
Tue Nov 23, 2021 7:47 pm
Australian academia is not a happy place either at the moment from what I hear, certainly not for the social sciences. UWA is closing whole departments, so the UK job market is currently getting flooded with desperate Aussie CVs (we'll have a colleague from UWA joining us next year).
US academia, no thanks. Personally I find the tenure process off-putting, and the higher salaries are for me offset by the abysmal social welfare system. If I got headhunted by Yale, I wouldn't go.
Universities in Australia are suffering from the fallout from COVID-19 induced border closures. As a result of Government funding decisions over the past 20 years, Universities have opted to make up short falls in revenue by attracting students from elsewhere - who pay the full cost of the education. China and to a lesser extent India, have become large and lucrative markets. With those students now absent for 2 years, all Universities are in a difficult financial position. Different Universities are making different choices about cuts, but all are letting academics go. Some Universities are closing whole areas. Contraction in workforce rarely makes for a harmonious workplace.*

On the broader sense, academia is little different in Australia to a number of other places I have been. It has been chronically underfunded for quite a long time. There are also quite a lot of qualifications on offer that are attractive to potential students, but which don't deliver on the jobs front. The current Government had ideas of changing that, but as far as I can tell their policy seems to be more about the culture wars than addressing qualifications that have low graduate employment.

The US and China are a couple of places I have been where Universities are funded adequately.

Having written all the above, I would state that there are advantages and joys of working in academia. If you like teaching it is a great place to be. Academics (in Australia at least) are relatively well paid (although someone like myself could have been earning a lot more money for a lot less interesting work in industry) and you do have quite a bit of freedom about what areas you work in - if you are successful at bringing in funding you can do more or less what you want in the research space. You are also seen as independent from both Government and industry, so in a field like mine you can have quite a bit of influence.

*I could also go on my rant about researchers who have too large a sense of entitlement. The ones that whinge that no one will fund their research projects. Frankly if no one is interested in funding the project you want to do, it is most likely because no one finds it interesting, it is a sh.t project, or both of the above. Just because it was what you did in your Ph.D., doesn't mean it has value 15 years later. The solution is to think about how you can employ your skills to do research people want to fund. These people also make working in academic departments a chore.
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Re: Declining attractiveness of UK academia

Post by warumich » Wed Nov 24, 2021 12:45 pm

Chris Preston wrote:
Wed Nov 24, 2021 3:29 am


The US and China are a couple of places I have been where Universities are funded adequately.


Adequately funded maybe, but I'm not sure I'd want to work in a country where academic freedom of speech is severely curtailed, where native ethnic minorities are pressurised to assimilate culturally, linguistically and religiously and where a violent history of oppression is being edited out of the national identity. And China isn't that nice either.

Eta, I agree though that overall it's a is a fantastic profession to work in once you get there. When I daydream about leaving UK academia it's not academia that bothers me, but I really don't like this country anymore at the moment.
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Re: Declining attractiveness of UK academia

Post by plodder » Wed Nov 24, 2021 12:54 pm

Isn't any profession fantastic to work in one you "get there"?

You might have made a very cheerful literary agent, or a barrister, or a property developer or whatever.

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Re: Declining attractiveness of UK academia

Post by Bird on a Fire » Wed Nov 24, 2021 10:46 pm

Woodchopper wrote:
Tue Nov 23, 2021 12:38 pm
Bird on a Fire wrote:
Tue Nov 23, 2021 11:21 am
plodder wrote:
Tue Nov 23, 2021 11:12 am
From an outsider's perspective academia is structurally f.cked as a career. It seems to be ego-driven, unfair, extremely precarious, driven by in-crowds and patronage and weighted heavily against new entrants. A friend spent years on part time, temporary contracts before he got tenure, and his salary is still way below what he could earn in the private sector. I don't know if this is exclusively a UK problem but I understand it's something that's got worse over the last 10-15 years which I suspect would coincide roughly with the way universities are funded. I'm willing to bet the two are linked.
Oh yes, like other creative industries it's a total basket case. The salaries are generally low, but the work is different - compare being an artist with designing adverts for supermarkets.

Things like precarity, toxicity, fairness, work-life balance, gender equity, etc etc are all serious problems, but I get the impression that many of them are worse in the UK, and backsliding, than in the rest of NW Europe. (And often far worse in the US, as you'd expect, but that seems to be the UK's lords' and masters' preferred direction of travel).
Just based upon people I know, pay and conditions are better than the UK in the Nordic countries and Switzerland. But I don't get the impression that things are worse in the UK than in Germany, Belgium, France etc. I don't know Portugal, but pay and conditions appear to be much worse in Italy and Spain, and in Central and Eastern Europe. Pay and conditions for tenured staff are much better in the US than the UK, but to get there aspiring professors have to get into a winning position in ruthless competition. Australia seems like a great place to work, and I'm acquainted with a few distinguished British academics who've moved there.

In terms of job opportunities in Europe, British early-career academics are usually in a far worse position applying for jobs abroad than their European counterparts applying for jobs in the UK. In the great majority of degree courses teaching is in the local national language (eg German bachelors courses are usually taught in German). By the time a European academic has a PhD they will frequently be fluent in English and can apply for UK teaching positions, but few British PhDs are fluent in a second European language, so their job opportunities are limited.
Interesting. Maybe it varies a lot depending on career stage.

There are various tables available like this:
Screenshot_2021-11-24_22-27-45.png
Screenshot_2021-11-24_22-27-45.png (113.38 KiB) Viewed 215 times
from https://www.informatics-europe.org/data ... tdocs.html

For PhDs, the UK's stipends really are anomalously low for NW Europe, especially bearing in mind that you only get 3-3.5 years of funding (I get a whole extra field season compared to my UK colleagues, which makes quite a difference in my field). Plus everyone I know there has to cram in teaching too in order to pay the rent on their houseshare. Over here I can afford a two-bed flat with just my stipend (but institutions in rich countries have much better resources, and pay things like travel and publication fees).

Post-docs I see on jobs.ac.uk offer £30-40k, which is €36-48 ish. So it certainly looks like you'd get paid more in Belgium, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Norway, etc.

Obviously salaries are only part of the story (though the pensions and contracts are also quite sh.t), and maybe they do indeed get more competitive once you get out of the precariat and into the 1% of PhDs who can get a permanent contract as an academic. There are still a lot of well-funded institutions in the UK which must be nice to work at - but I think "not wanting to live in the country any more", as warumich puts it, is a pretty serious negative point. I've heard from quite a few people, since about 2015, that the UK is quite off-putting to foreigners these days.
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Re: Declining attractiveness of UK academia

Post by Bird on a Fire » Wed Nov 24, 2021 11:06 pm

plodder wrote:
Tue Nov 23, 2021 12:51 pm
It's not the case that private sector ecologists are actively damaging the environment, but they are paid to understand and navigate the numerous various legal and regulatory constraints around environmental law. Their public sector counterparts at NE, the EA etc do a similar thing to be honest, for worse pay but better pensions etc and I've not seen much cynicism from one side towards the other - however I do work for reputable firms, reputable clients etc, rather than Shithead Housing Developments PLC. One thing I will say about working on the regulatory side is that it looks pretty stressful due to chronic underfunding.
Thing is, Shithead Housing PLC will absolutely be able to pay some ecologists to write a report saying whatever they want to do will be no big deal. Bulldozing some ancient woodland for a housing estate? Just put up some bat boxes (and pay us a fortune to "monitor" them for the next 5 years for some reason), maybe plant some saplings around the car park. At that point, it's up to the county ecologist, NGOs and random members of the public to push back, so it basically depends on how much time/energy/political free-reign they have - normally not much.

A lot of what I've done for private-sector consultancies so far has been a lucrative waste of time. They'll hold up some old geezer putting in a Velux window to count one bat coming out from under the tiles, but say it's ok to build a huge apartment complex on reclaimed mudflat as long as they keep contracting ecologists to come and monitor the subsequent decline of waterbirds in the adjacent SPA.

And there's often little enforcement if developers fail to stick to the conditions they agreed to anyway - they sell their buildings and bugger off, and might get slapped with a tokenistic fine later.

Not to mention the time I met a couple of ecologists in shiny new hi-vis and wellies, doing a badger survey in a saltmarsh.

But yeah, there are good consultancies doing good work, but there's also plenty of sh.t ones to navigate. I think I'd rather be on the side of law and order ;)

(I've been much more impressed with public sector projects I've worked on, like big coastal schemes - EA and NE generally seem to work well together and have overlapping objectives, rather than the adversarial relationship between developers and regulators).
plodder wrote:
Tue Nov 23, 2021 12:51 pm
If you want to Follow Your DreamsTM you'll get there in the end but you'll need to be far more determined and persistent. I'd go for it if you've got a good idea, there's plenty of time to change tack and good people will always be in demand.
Thanks - I think that's my thinking too. My real struggle is being certain what my dreams are, tbh. Need to do some soul-searching over the next few months.
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Re: Declining attractiveness of UK academia

Post by sTeamTraen » Wed Nov 24, 2021 11:56 pm

Bird on a Fire wrote:
Tue Nov 23, 2021 11:02 am
“This is exactly what our new point-based immigration system was designed for – attracting the best and brightest based on the skills and talent they have, not where they’ve come from.”
The points-based immigration system is utter shite. Most of the points are meaningless because you have to meet all of the requirements - it's not like the Australian system where you can trade, say, a slightly higher level of education for a slightly lower level of English proficiency (or at least, it's something like that). The only thing in the UK system that can be traded off is salary versus qualifications, and even that in a very limited way. From memory:
- If you get £25k salary, you don't need a degree of any kind
- If you have a PhD they can get away with paying you only £23k
- If you have a STEM PhD they can get away with paying you only £20k
Yes, that's right - the way to attract the world' best and brightest is to allow virology PhDs to be paid less than truck drivers.
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Re: Declining attractiveness of UK academia

Post by Bird on a Fire » Thu Nov 25, 2021 12:55 am

Market forces, innit. The UK's got enough virologists and not enough truck drivers.

My dad was a lorry driver, and really wanted something "better" for his kids. I do wonder what he'd make of all this.

(Being more serious - yes. Am I am a STEM PhD holder supposed to be so keen on moving to the UK I'll do it for way below the median salary there? Especially bearing in mind the cost of living.)
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Re: Declining attractiveness of UK academia

Post by Woodchopper » Thu Nov 25, 2021 8:05 am

Bird on a Fire wrote:
Wed Nov 24, 2021 10:46 pm
Woodchopper wrote:
Tue Nov 23, 2021 12:38 pm
Bird on a Fire wrote:
Tue Nov 23, 2021 11:21 am

Oh yes, like other creative industries it's a total basket case. The salaries are generally low, but the work is different - compare being an artist with designing adverts for supermarkets.

Things like precarity, toxicity, fairness, work-life balance, gender equity, etc etc are all serious problems, but I get the impression that many of them are worse in the UK, and backsliding, than in the rest of NW Europe. (And often far worse in the US, as you'd expect, but that seems to be the UK's lords' and masters' preferred direction of travel).
Just based upon people I know, pay and conditions are better than the UK in the Nordic countries and Switzerland. But I don't get the impression that things are worse in the UK than in Germany, Belgium, France etc. I don't know Portugal, but pay and conditions appear to be much worse in Italy and Spain, and in Central and Eastern Europe. Pay and conditions for tenured staff are much better in the US than the UK, but to get there aspiring professors have to get into a winning position in ruthless competition. Australia seems like a great place to work, and I'm acquainted with a few distinguished British academics who've moved there.

In terms of job opportunities in Europe, British early-career academics are usually in a far worse position applying for jobs abroad than their European counterparts applying for jobs in the UK. In the great majority of degree courses teaching is in the local national language (eg German bachelors courses are usually taught in German). By the time a European academic has a PhD they will frequently be fluent in English and can apply for UK teaching positions, but few British PhDs are fluent in a second European language, so their job opportunities are limited.
Interesting. Maybe it varies a lot depending on career stage.

There are various tables available like this:
Screenshot_2021-11-24_22-27-45.png
from https://www.informatics-europe.org/data ... tdocs.html

For PhDs, the UK's stipends really are anomalously low for NW Europe, especially bearing in mind that you only get 3-3.5 years of funding (I get a whole extra field season compared to my UK colleagues, which makes quite a difference in my field). Plus everyone I know there has to cram in teaching too in order to pay the rent on their houseshare. Over here I can afford a two-bed flat with just my stipend (but institutions in rich countries have much better resources, and pay things like travel and publication fees).

Post-docs I see on jobs.ac.uk offer £30-40k, which is €36-48 ish. So it certainly looks like you'd get paid more in Belgium, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Norway, etc.

Obviously salaries are only part of the story (though the pensions and contracts are also quite sh.t), and maybe they do indeed get more competitive once you get out of the precariat and into the 1% of PhDs who can get a permanent contract as an academic. There are still a lot of well-funded institutions in the UK which must be nice to work at - but I think "not wanting to live in the country any more", as warumich puts it, is a pretty serious negative point. I've heard from quite a few people, since about 2015, that the UK is quite off-putting to foreigners these days.
The problems elsewhere are wider than salary.

As Warumich pointed out the problem with academia in Germany is the extent of the use of casual labour. This article states that: "According to the German Federal Statistical Office, 87% of academics were employed on fixed-term contracts in 2019." That lines up with what my German friends have complained about, that there are a tiny number of permanent contracts that go to the top professors, and everyone else has to work on short term contracts, with a consequence being that academics often have to keep moving to different parts of the country every few years (which for many is incompatible with a family life and a spouse who wants to develop a career).

The equivalent figure in the UK for teaching and research staff is 33% (or 25% of full-time employees), so the great majority of people who make it past the post-doc phase and stay in academia in the UK have much greater security of employment. That also accords with people I know, who have all been able to stay in one city and develop their careers there.

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Re: Declining attractiveness of UK academia

Post by Woodchopper » Thu Nov 25, 2021 9:11 am

warumich wrote:
Tue Nov 23, 2021 7:47 pm

All that, plus central European academia is still very nepotistic - don't want to propagate unwarranted stereotypes of Italy or France, but I have plenty of friends from these countries who did their PhDs here and have given up finding a job in their home country because they haven't got the right connections through their supervisors.
And that’s the experience of people I know as well.

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Re: Declining attractiveness of UK academia

Post by FlammableFlower » Thu Nov 25, 2021 2:10 pm

From what I've seen up to post-doc is main precarious point in the UK. Most of the time, post beyond that are more secure. Although this definitely isn't the case with teaching-only positions (often called Teaching Fellows) - they are frequently still fixed term - although it's changing in that area too.

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Re: Declining attractiveness of UK academia

Post by plodder » Thu Nov 25, 2021 3:19 pm

Woodchopper wrote:
Thu Nov 25, 2021 9:11 am
warumich wrote:
Tue Nov 23, 2021 7:47 pm

All that, plus central European academia is still very nepotistic - don't want to propagate unwarranted stereotypes of Italy or France, but I have plenty of friends from these countries who did their PhDs here and have given up finding a job in their home country because they haven't got the right connections through their supervisors.
And that’s the experience of people I know as well.
Is academia actually any good at R&D? Considering the amount of people and resources involved?

eta perhaps I should change R&D to “producing lots of excellent ideas” or similar.

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Re: Declining attractiveness of UK academia

Post by dyqik » Thu Nov 25, 2021 4:16 pm

plodder wrote:
Thu Nov 25, 2021 3:19 pm
Woodchopper wrote:
Thu Nov 25, 2021 9:11 am
warumich wrote:
Tue Nov 23, 2021 7:47 pm

All that, plus central European academia is still very nepotistic - don't want to propagate unwarranted stereotypes of Italy or France, but I have plenty of friends from these countries who did their PhDs here and have given up finding a job in their home country because they haven't got the right connections through their supervisors.
And that’s the experience of people I know as well.
Is academia actually any good at R&D? Considering the amount of people and resources involved?

eta perhaps I should change R&D to “producing lots of excellent ideas” or similar.
Good enough that private corporations and public institutions with deep R&D budgets and their own research centers spend money paying academics to do R&D for them rather than hiring them.

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Re: Declining attractiveness of UK academia

Post by Bird on a Fire » Thu Nov 25, 2021 4:32 pm

Bird on a Fire wrote:
Wed Nov 24, 2021 11:06 pm
plodder wrote:
Tue Nov 23, 2021 12:51 pm
It's not the case that private sector ecologists are actively damaging the environment, but they are paid to understand and navigate the numerous various legal and regulatory constraints around environmental law. Their public sector counterparts at NE, the EA etc do a similar thing to be honest, for worse pay but better pensions etc and I've not seen much cynicism from one side towards the other - however I do work for reputable firms, reputable clients etc, rather than Shithead Housing Developments PLC. One thing I will say about working on the regulatory side is that it looks pretty stressful due to chronic underfunding.
Thing is, Shithead Housing PLC will absolutely be able to pay some ecologists to write a report saying whatever they want to do will be no big deal. Bulldozing some ancient woodland for a housing estate? Just put up some bat boxes (and pay us a fortune to "monitor" them for the next 5 years for some reason), maybe plant some saplings around the car park. At that point, it's up to the county ecologist, NGOs and random members of the public to push back, so it basically depends on how much time/energy/political free-reign they have - normally not much.
<snip>
One example among hundreds - the developer's ecologist simply deny the presence of protected species, whereas independent surveys found them.
https://twitter.com/saveourwolds1/statu ... 3c3aw&s=19
You can shove your climate crisis up your arse!

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Re: Declining attractiveness of UK academia

Post by Bird on a Fire » Thu Nov 25, 2021 4:37 pm

Woodchopper wrote:
Thu Nov 25, 2021 8:05 am
As Warumich pointed out the problem with academia in Germany is the extent of the use of casual labour. This article states that: "According to the German Federal Statistical Office, 87% of academics were employed on fixed-term contracts in 2019." That lines up with what my German friends have complained about, that there are a tiny number of permanent contracts that go to the top professors, and everyone else has to work on short term contracts, with a consequence being that academics often have to keep moving to different parts of the country every few years (which for many is incompatible with a family life and a spouse who wants to develop a career).

The equivalent figure in the UK for teaching and research staff is 33% (or 25% of full-time employees), so the great majority of people who make it past the post-doc phase and stay in academia in the UK have much greater security of employment. That also accords with people I know, who have all been able to stay in one city and develop their careers there.
That's interesting to note, thanks. I'm sure my impressions are biased by mostly knowing people at PhD and post-doc stage, so good to see some harder data.

And re: nepotism, I will say that I've found the academic environment in the UK very egalitarian, with professors and students interacting quite freely and friendlily (in general - obviously tw.ts exist, institutional cultures vary, etc). A lot of other places do seem quite hierarchical, nepotistic and fraught with 'political' complications. So the UK has that going for it too.

ETA and I suppose there's also a big problem using salary data, which is that the jobs have to exist in the first place. Is a country's academe "better" if it has 1000 lower-paying jobs or 500 higher-paying ones? I've anecdotally heard of rigid, generous pay spines limiting opportunities in (IIRC) Sweden.
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Re: Declining attractiveness of UK academia

Post by plodder » Thu Nov 25, 2021 4:43 pm

Bird on a Fire wrote:
Thu Nov 25, 2021 4:32 pm
Bird on a Fire wrote:
Wed Nov 24, 2021 11:06 pm
plodder wrote:
Tue Nov 23, 2021 12:51 pm
It's not the case that private sector ecologists are actively damaging the environment, but they are paid to understand and navigate the numerous various legal and regulatory constraints around environmental law. Their public sector counterparts at NE, the EA etc do a similar thing to be honest, for worse pay but better pensions etc and I've not seen much cynicism from one side towards the other - however I do work for reputable firms, reputable clients etc, rather than Shithead Housing Developments PLC. One thing I will say about working on the regulatory side is that it looks pretty stressful due to chronic underfunding.
Thing is, Shithead Housing PLC will absolutely be able to pay some ecologists to write a report saying whatever they want to do will be no big deal. Bulldozing some ancient woodland for a housing estate? Just put up some bat boxes (and pay us a fortune to "monitor" them for the next 5 years for some reason), maybe plant some saplings around the car park. At that point, it's up to the county ecologist, NGOs and random members of the public to push back, so it basically depends on how much time/energy/political free-reign they have - normally not much.
<snip>
One example among hundreds - the developer's ecologist simply deny the presence of protected species, whereas independent surveys found them.
https://twitter.com/saveourwolds1/statu ... 3c3aw&s=19
Sure. You could chose to work for a reputable company though. You can also threaten to take your PhD and walk if your boss tells you to break ethical rules (which are part and parcel of most big firms HR policy). I mean, if you want to work for some hillbilly outfit who does favours for local land-gangsters then slow-handclap you.

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