Figures published in a recent study show the number of clinical academic staff in UK dental schools is at its highest level in more than a decade.
The figures, published by the Dental Schools Council, show a total of 575 FTE (full-time equivalent) (956 individuals) clinical academic dentists in posts in 2013.
The overall increase is in the context of an expansion of dental student numbers between 2000 and 2013 (up 35% in the last decade), and three new dental schools at Peninsula, Aberdeen and UCLAN.
The overall increase masks a decline in the number of research-active and ‘traditional’ academics in posts such as professors, reader/senior lecturers and lecturers, 11% (-47 FTE) less than in 2006 when clinical teachers were first recognised by this survey, and -19% (-89 FTE) since 2000.
Of the 18 dental schools, 15 have raised concerns about a national shortage of suitably qualified applicants for senior clinical academic posts.
Dentistry is small but unique amongst the clinical professions in that the primary role of dental schools is to teach and educate the future clinical workforce.
This is reflected by the significant contribution of funding from the Higher Education Funding Councils to academic dentistry (75%) compared with only 44% to medicine.
Professor Paul Speight, chair of the Dental Schools Council, said: ‘British oral and dental research is among the best in the world, and the UK dental schools are encouraged by these latest numbers showing a continued expansion in the clinical academic team.
‘We do have concerns about the low research base in academic dentistry, evidenced by the lower number of Research Excellence Framework-returnable academics.
‘Whilst the creation of a clinical teacher pathway demonstrates the innovative ways in which schools are delivering teaching, research and patient care, the low research base poses a serious threat to oral and dental research, and in turn to the health of the population.
‘The national overview of education, training and research across the four UK nations must be maintained, particularly with regards to smaller specialties.
‘The combination of research and teaching makes it, not only an exciting career, but also of enormous value to both the skilled dentists who graduate from our schools and the health of the UK as a whole.
‘Dental schools are encouraged by the national picture with an increase in staffing levels, particularly at a time when budgets are under intense scrutiny, and it is vital that these numbers are, at a minimum, sustained.
‘We will work to ensure their continuing successes in research, innovation and teaching excellence.’
Many dental schools have been commended for support to women in clinical and non-clinical work through the Athena Swan awards programme.
In academic dentistry, 17% of professors, 41% of readers/senior lecturers and 49% of lecturers are women; 40% overall.
This offers substantial progress compared with 32% overall, and just 11% of professors, in 2004.
Key findings of the Dental Schools Council survey as of 31 July 2013 were:
- There were 575 FTE clinical academics (956 individuals) employed by 18 UK dental schools
- 67% (387 FTE) of the clinical academic team are professors, readers/senior lecturers and lecturers, and 33% (187 FTE) are senior clinical teachers, clinical teachers and researchers
- The majority of clinical academic posts are funded by the Higher Education Funding Councils (75%), with the remainder funded by the NHS (21%) and research councils, charities and endowments (5%)
- Women make up 40% of clinical academic staff, compared with 32% in 2004, and 17% of professors are women, compared with 11% in 2004
- There were 39 reported FTE vacancies in 2013, 6% of all available posts, with 15 of 18 schools reporting difficulties in recruitment, particularly at senior level in periodontics and restorative more generally.
The survey can be accessed online from here.