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  • Dr Kay Guccione

The Researchers14 position on the Concordat Review

The Researchers 14 position on the Concordat Review

Written on behalf of Researchers 14 by Dr Kay Guccione (@kayguccione), University of Sheffield.

In 2014, Researchers 14 formed, bringing together staff from 14 UK Universities who collectively represent upwards of 65% of the UK postdoctoral research staff population. We meet three times a year to discuss the things that are important to the research staff we champion: their role in the university, their progression, how they are managed, their development, our relationships with them, how we listen to their opinions, how we support them when they arrive, how we support them to leave — and, how we could be better at doing all this. Being development professionals, we are well practiced in coaching conversions and even from those early days our conversations were laced with questions like ‘what is preventing our progress' and ‘what would help us to better lead research staff development in our universities?’

Across all UK universities, a document which has enabled and influenced our work is 'the Concordat' (the Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers). At its launch in 2008 it was innovative, timely, and very much welcomed by us — it’s given us legitimacy in our universities and a framework for everything we do. We have championed it to our staff, and through our work.

Our collective thinking about how we work within the Concordat framing has matured over the nearly 10 years we have been working with it. As we have put its recommendations into practice across our universities, we have learned a lot about what works, what needs tweaking, what has had traction, and what is restrictive and needs fresh thought. We used mapping techniques, action learning groups and good old peer debate to imagine a way forward that responds to the new challenges we face and will face in HE, nationally and internationally. We imagined what the research staff of the future will want and need. We spent over a year thinking about, and debating, how we could bring the Concordat into alignment with other important sector drivers: Athena Swan, the Race Equality Charter, Stonewall, REF, TEF, and now KEF. We also laid bare our challenges and failures in implementing the Concordat’s Principles in order that we could find ways to overcome them.

We were then delighted to hear that the Concordat is now being officially reviewed by an independent panel, and that the consultation is now open for individual, institutional, and collective responses. Dr Liz Elvidge (Imperial College London) represents Researchers 14 on the national expert review panel and will both feed in our collective thoughts, and help to ensure a robust review process.

The Concordat consultation survey can be found here - open until the 1st December 2017. The more voices who contribute, the better the outcome will be. We encourage you to submit a response.

The Researchers 14 response to the Consultation on the Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers?

Our headline suggestions for how the Concordat could be re-focused to greater effect, include clarifying:

  • How the responsibilities of the Individual Researcher, their Principle Investigator/Line Manager, the Employing University, and the Research Funders combine and align to maximum effect;

  • The importance of Research Staff having access to developmental conversations (e.g. through enhanced appraisal, mentoring, coaching, or other 1:1 consultation, guidance or support).

  • The validity and necessity of researchers pursuing careers beyond academia: including awareness raising amongst PIs, data systems to facilitate mapping of the destination landscapes and employer engagement.

We suggest seven significantly reshaped Concordat Principles (summarised below) throughout which stakeholder relationships and responsibilities e.g. Researcher, Employer (University), Principle Investigator / Line Manager (PILM), and Funder are interwoven:

R14 PRINCIPLE 1: Researcher Responsibilities: Research staff should recognise that they take primary responsibility for managing and developing their own career. Accordingly, they should identify their development needs and actively seek out opportunities to address these. Research staff should ensure that their career development requirements and activities are regularly discussed, monitored and evaluated (through an ongoing development plan) in discussion with their PILM, and where available, with an independent mentor. Research staff must recognise that the skills and achievements required to move on from their existing research position are unlikely to be the same as the skills and achievements which they displayed to reach that position.

R14 PRINCIPLE 2: Principle Investigator/Line Manager Responsibilities: PILMs of research staff should be responsible for actively managing the performance of their research staff and supporting their professional and career development. PILMs should communicate the expectations of the post and any potential progression criteria, setting realistic expectations of the limited opportunities for academic career progression. PILMs should offer a collaborative and dialogic approach to setting objectives for the research project and for the researcher’s professional and career development. To support this employers must commit to providing development opportunities to enable PILMs to conduct an informed and fair performance review, and devise assessment processes that quality assure and reward good management practices. PILMs must make every effort to identify and signpost researchers to opportunities that will help them to gain awareness, insight and evidence in a range of areas additional to their core research (e.g. teaching, administration, funding application, budget management, public engagement and knowledge transfer). PILMs should act as sponsors who involve research staff in collaborations, partnerships, networks, and communities of scholars locally and in the wider research field. PILMs and mentors will encourage research staff to be open to exploring careers both within and beyond academia, placing equal value on all. PILMs should be recognised and rewarded for their good practice in supporting and developing their research staff.

R14 PRINCIPLE 3: Recruitment and Selection: We emphasise the importance of recruiting, selecting and retaining research staff with the highest potential to achieve excellence in research, and employers must clearly communicate appropriate selection criteria to recruiting PILMs, and to recruitment panels. Employers should ensure that recruitment and selection procedures are open, informative, transparent and inclusive to all qualified applicants. Person and vacancy specifications must clearly identify the relevant skills, knowledge and behavioural qualities required for the post. Promotion panels should be made up of trained individuals and reflect diversity (e.g. gender, disability, ethnicity and age) as well as a range of experience and expertise. Unsuccessful shortlisted applicants should be given appropriate feedback if requested. PILMs should be supported to understand the rules and implications of recruitment decisions and be responsible for consistency in their application of pay or grade for researchers according to employer policy.

R14 PRINCIPLE 4: Recognition and Value: Research staff should be recognised and valued as an essential part of the organisational human resource, and a key component of their overall strategy to develop and deliver world-class research. Employers and funders should work together to create ways to improve the stability of employment conditions for research staff and to consider how policies and guidance can enhance continuity of employment. Employers should commit to providing all new research staff with a tailored induction which emphasises the shared responsibility between employers, funders, PILMs, and research staff regarding career development. Employers should ensure that PILMs conduct regular, formal, performance and development reviews for research staff, and develop processes and systems to enable PILM development, assessment and reward for good practice. Employers should develop guidelines to encourage those in senior leadership roles to explicitly recognise and value the contribution research staff make to the work of their department. They will be encouraged to commend specific contributions publicly, and to ensure research staff have a visible profile, and are involved in all relevant department activities and decisions. Employers should ensure the process for progression and promotion for research staff is transparent and in accordance with procedures agreed between the relevant trade unions and the employers nationally and locally. Employers should ensure that the development of research staff is not undermined by instability of employment contracts.

R14 PRINCIPLE 5: Support and Career Development: Research staff should be actively, and regularly encouraged and supported to assess and address their personal, professional and career development needs. Appropriate tools for self-assessment, career benchmarking and forward planning should be offered by employers in line with a research staff development strategy that spans their employment lifetime. Employers and funders agree that up to 10 days per year focused on personal, professional and career development is a necessary investment. Hence employers should commit to providing research staff with the opportunity to develop academic and research leadership skills including: designing and delivering teaching (including supervising research students), applying for research funding, leading research projects and publishing research. In parallel, employers should commit to the active raising of awareness of other employment fields and sectors for research staff, making use of seminars, alumni networks, internships and placements. Employers and funders should commit to providing all research staff with access to mentoring relationships, delivering specialist training for mentors and mentees. Employers should commit to ensuring mentors' time commitment is recognised in workload allocation models. Employers should, as a matter of course, evaluate and quality assure all development opportunities. Employers and funders should co-develop a consistent and robust way of tracking the next destinations and careers of research staff national and internationally to facilitate better understanding of career pathways.

R14 PRINCIPLE 6: Review (of the Concordat): An effective review process should only be agreed when the revised Concordat has been shaped. Researchers 14 would welcome the production of a living document that is reviewed and updated on a more regular basis.

R14 PRINCIPLE 7: Inclusion and fairness are at the heart of the researcher experience: (We recommend that this principle also be embodied throughout all practices described in Principles 1-6). Diversity and equality must be promoted in all aspects of the recruitment and career management of research staff. Employers, under wider current UK legislation, already commit to implementing equality legislation and contributing to and driving appropriate changes, for research staff, as for all other staff groups. However, it should be emphasised that the demanding nature of research careers, and of fixed term contracts, has a disproportionate effect on certain researcher sub-groups. Where disadvantaged or vulnerable researcher sub-groups are identified, they should be explicitly named on the appropriate employer strategy or action plan (e.g. Athena SWAN, Race Equality, Stonewall). Account should also be taken not to discriminate on researchers’ personal circumstances not restricted to the above characteristics e.g. responsibility for young children or adult dependants, research staff in gender reassignment, research staff for whom English is not a first language, older or younger research staff, or research staff with disabilities or long-term health issues. Working conditions, and flexible working arrangements should allow all research staff to combine family and other personal commitments, with their career. Funders should commit to ensuring that funding mechanisms and policies comply with UK legislation (e.g. provision of additional funding to cover carer leave and adoptive leave). Employers should champion visible role models for research staff that represent a balance of gender, disability, ethnicity and age, at supervisory and managerial level, and on committees and panels. Employers should commit to ensure that measures exist through which discrimination, bullying or harassment can be reported and addressed.

Researchers 14 would like to reiterate our support for the Concordat Review Panel, and we encourage anyone with a stake in how researchers are recruited, treated, progressed, and developed in universities, to engage with the Concordat consultation by the 1st December deadline.

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