- Previous events
- Vitae researcher development conference 2008
- Workshop programme NEW UPDATE December 08
- C7 Workshop summary and outcomes
C7 Workshop summary and outcomes
Postgraduate researcher strand
Responding to part-time study and flexible modes of working
Dr Carol Edwards, Postgraduate Trainer, University of Leicester, Dr Ged Hall, Research Training and Roberts Money Manager, University of Nottingham and Rachel Tobbell, Manager of Services For Women, UK Resource Centre for Women in Science, Engineering and Technology
An accurate understanding of researchers' needs requires a recognition of the diversity that exists within the group. Researchers who study or work part time or flexibly can often be poorly served by initiatives that fail to recognise this diversity.
This session looked at how part-time study and flexible work impacts on researchers' careers with a particular look at its importance in retaining women. Rachel Tobbell examined the case for flexible work and the work experience and career development issues that affect researchers who choose to work flexibly. Carol Edwards and Ged Hall presented the findings from the Vitae: Midlands Hub project which developed resources for part-time researchers and gathered information on their experience of study. This specifically explored:
- issues encountered in developing a training programme for part-time researchers
- strengths and weaknesses in the pedagogy and logistics of research degrees as reported by participants in the study.
56% of postgraduates study part time. Of these, 53% are female and 47% male. Part-time academic staff 2006-07 included nearly six thousand researchers (below lecturer level) of whom 67% were female, 33% male. ('Data source HESA (2008) Resources of Higher Education institutions 2006--07.
Secondary analysis by UKRC http://www.ukrc4setwomen.org/html/research-and-statistics/statistics/')
HE institutions should enable flexible working for many reasons beyond the fundamental legal obligation:
- workers can combine caring and work
- universities are less likely to lose those with caring responsibilities
- to reduce costs
- competition to be employer of choice
- part of gender equality duty.
In reality, problems experienced by those working flexibly often include:
- lack of precedents
- being excluded from meetings and formal communication
- being excluded from informal networking
- managing workload
- benchmarking/assessment by manager
- concern about stepping off the career ladder
- lack of ‘quality part-time work'.
Most of these issues are also concerns, to a greater or lesser degree, of part-time research students.
Rachel also outlined the Athena SWAN charter, designed to help address diversity challenges in academia, while Carol and Ged indicated how the successful Midlands Hub pilot might develop.
There is wide recognition of the huge benefits of offering flexible study and work opportunities. Participants articulated the following: opening new income streams; increasing diversity and therefore creativity; retaining good brains; attracting good brains; benefiting from the high levels of commitment from part-time students. However, operationally, this is a complex area and more discussion and research into operationalising flexibility is required.
Part-timers, both students and staff, should have equal access to their institution's services and resources - so, more flexible delivery of services is required (eg library access). Part-timers should not have to rely on their supervisor as their only source of support and contact, and good-practice guidelines on the supervision of part-timers would be helpful. There are many different viable models for part-time study and work. HE institutions should not just look internally for solutions: much better solutions will come from collaborative thinking.
Once solutions have been identified institutions need to share the workload and costs of delivery - again, collaboration should be facilitated here.
The workshop also suggested a number of roles for Vitae, ie that it should:
- help HE institutions support part-time students by supporting services such as dedicated courses/seminars. Ideally, Vitae should support residential graduate schools for part-time students where they can come together for peer support and feel part of a community (often lacking in their student experience)
- facilitate collaboration between universities in the area of flexible provision by a) identifying and disseminating successful models of flexible work and study (not just from the UK), b) promoting joint projects and c) incorporating flexibility as a theme at conferences/events
- provide an online community for part-timers or, at least, a part-time only area within a wider online community, to provide a vital lifeline for many part-time students who feel disconnected from their communities.
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