Statement on Birmingham ‘Honorary’ unpaid research assistant

We note the advertisement of an ‘Honorary’ research assistant on an unpaid basis in the University of Birmingham psychology department has been withdrawn from advertisement.

We believe that the aims of the research; understanding mental illness in young adults, is an important pursuit. We do not wish to stigmatize those who may have wanted to apply for this position or those leading the research.

We would, however, like to draw attention to the long term damage done to the pursuit of scientific inquiry by the use of unpaid labour in universities. In the short term, it establishes a practice that encourages the continued underfunding of vital research. In the long term it reduces the pool of people able to enter research to those that can afford to work for free. If these employment practices consolidate in the sector, science runs the risk of regressing back to the ‘gentlemen’s pursuit’ of the Victorian era.

The job advertised required a highly skilled, motivated individual. It is bad for scientific inquiry if these positions become the domain of the most able to work for free, not those most qualified.

For this reason we believe that such employment practices damage the reputation of the institution and department that implement them. We hope to see the job reappear with an appropriate salary.

We welcome the statement put out by UCU on this issue, and look forward to campaigning to eradicate poor practice in future.

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