The British Dental Association (BDA) has responded to workforce figures published by the Dental Schools Council (DSC) which show a marked decline in professorial roles and research.
The DSC reports that the number of clinical academics employed at professorial level in UK dental schools has declined by 8.3% since 2015, which the BDA believes undermines the UK’s global reputation as a leader in dental innovation.
Although the DSC highlights a 2.2% increase in the number of full time clinical academic staff employed since 2016, the BDA notes that dental schools are increasingly relying on part-time staff with a concentration in teaching posts over research. The workforce figures reveal a steady increase in employing part-time staff in the last five years, from 57% of the workforce in 2013 to 59% in 2017. The picture since 2004 is even starker when the less-than-full-time figure was 44%.
The BDA believes that the decline in research posts is a direct threat to the profession being able to find and explore new treatments, and could lead to an unhealthy period of stagnation, particularly if work is being done in other countries which would eclipse the UK's reputation in research.
This overall shift from research to teaching contracts means that UK dental academia is in danger of becoming little more than a degree mill: this has grim repercussions for both practitioners and patients.
The report also warns that more than two-thirds of the dental schools – 13 out of 18 – have experienced difficulties in recruiting to one or more specialties.
Giles McCracken, the Chair of the Central Committee for Dental Academic Staff, said:
“The latest figures on the workforce in dental schools show a worrying trend towards employing part-time staff to teach at the expense of research. This is incredibly short-sighted and mechanistic and undermines the global reputation that dental schools in the UK have enjoyed until now.
“Without the capacity for research, UK dental schools will have ongoing problems attracting top-class staff and this will impact upon the future of the profession.
“Advances in dentistry require ongoing investment in our research talent, not aspirational platitudes. The Dental Schools Council needs to do more to attract the top talent to deliver not just quality teaching but also world-class dental research and thereby ensure the health of the profession in the long-term.”