Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Scholars with scholarships

Published originally in European Alternatives

Scholarships are grants made to support student's education. Internships, on the other hand, are the periods of time in which a student or trainee works, sometimes without pay, in order to gain work experience or satisfy requirements for a qualification.

During the 80’s these funding schemes started to be used as a replacement for proper contracts mainly in the University environment in Spain. Nowadays it has been extended to all kind of sectors. Since this started, scholarships and internships are frequently used as a way of labour insertion for recent graduates. But the reality is that there are thousands of cases of graduates who work without proper funding in business, public administration and research centres. This happens under the mask of a training term funded by a scholarship, a really low salary contract or without any funding.

In Spain there is still no clear and decent research career and researchers in the early stages are the ones suffering this the most. For a long time researchers doing their PhD have been considered students, and not only in Spain. Nowadays PhD candidates or early stage researchers are not considered workers in many European countries such as Belgium, Denmark, France, Portugal or the UK. This is despite the declaration of the European Commission in The European Charter for Researchers and the Code of Conduct for the Recruitment of Researchers saying that “All researchers engaged in a research career should be recognised as professionals and be treated accordingly. This should commence at the beginning of their careers, namely at postgraduate level, and should include all levels, regardless of their classification at national level (e.g. employee, postgraduate student, doctoral candidate, postdoctoral fellow, civil servants)”. On the contrary, other countries like Finland, Germany, Norway and Switzerland do consider early stage researchers as workers.

The excuse for considering them students is that they are being trained and will get an academic qualification, the PhD. But the fact that they are graduates with the skills and knowledge to be workers has been forgotten. In addition, in the case of Spain, the early stage researchers (doctoral candidates) are the main work force of research. With the new Spanish Law of Science the early stage researchers will have a training contract similar to the contract that an intern can have. This is an important step because it will consider these researchers as workers however, there remain many limitations. Hopefully this situation will evolve towards better conditions for the early stage researchers and not towards the exploitation of the graduates in research.

Actually the FJI-Precarios has a campaign called “No more scholarships for work” (No más becas por trabajo) born from an awareness of the precarious labour situation of many early stage researchers. With this campaign they intend to give information to the affected people, so they can think about their situation and act through the Labour Inspection. The Campaign expects to provoke a change in the mentality: zero tolerance against scholarships covering work positions (more information can be found in Spanish in the website of the campaign).

Internships and scholarships have a limited field of use and they should be used only in the right cases. In essence they should not be seen as cheap labour, used to cover work positions as it has been done in the last years in Spain and other European countries.

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