Dental schools encouraged by growth in clinical academic numbers

Figures published by the Dental Schools Council have revealed that the number of clinical academic staff in UK dental schools is at its highest level in more than a decade, with a total of 575 FTE (956 individuals) clinical academic dentists in post 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.

However, the overall steady increase masks a decline in the number of research-active and ‘traditional’ academics in post as professor, reader/ senior lecturer and lecturer, 11% (-47 FTE) less than in 2006 when clinical teachers were first recognised by this survey, and -19% (-89 FTE) since 2000. Fifteen of 18 dental schools have raised concerns about a national shortage of suitably qualified applicants for senior clinical academic posts. This must be addressed urgently.

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.

Many dental schools have been commended for support to women in both 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 at 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.

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 however have concerns about the low research base in academic dentistry, evidenced by the lower number of REF-returnable clinical 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 level, particularly at a time when budgets are under intense scrutiny, and it is vital that these numbers are at minimum sustained. We will work to ensure their continuing successes in research, innovation and teaching excellence.’

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