Creating Collaboration: A Vitae YNE Hub Good Practice Workshop 2010 output
In the present economic climate, there is considerable interest in co-ordination and collaboration between Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) to provide training provision for researchers. This issue receives a great deal of attention in local and national researcher development circles, as training networks are being formalised in joint funding applications to funding bodies such as the ESRC (2011) and AHRC (2011). Coordination and collaborations are generally pitched as economical approaches for supporting researcher development with high quality development programmes, and could be seen as the future of all researcher development. However, the concept of co-ordination and collaboration is nothing new in the researcher development arena, and a workshop called Creating Collaboration in the Pathways to a Sustainable Future programme (Vitae, 2011a) provided the platform for identifying the reasons for collaboration, exploring the challenges to collaboration and sharing good practice: thereby highlighting the benefits, barriers and enablers (respectively) as well as providing examples of models for collaborating which are proving to be successful.
The benefits of two or more HEIs working together to coordinate and collaborate on researcher development was reported by staff developers (n=9) in the workshop at several levels. Benefits were identified for researchers (students and staff), for the researcher developers and for their university which will ultimately benefit the economy. These benefits include:
- Positively impacting on the general research environment by generating better research staff and student experiences. The research environment has been evaluated by Careers in Research Online (Mellors-Bourne & Metcalfe, 2009) and Postgraduate Research Experience (Gosia Kulej & Pam Wells, 2009) surveys respectively;
- Increasing the range of training provision offered to researchers, providing a broader range of skills training and different learning approaches to suit the learner that ultimately enhance their professional efficacy and increase their employability. These attributes have been evaluated by the Impact and Evaluation Group (Vitae, 2011b);
- Increasing the number of training opportunities where courses are duplicated, making training more accessibility for busy students (especially Part-time students);
- Sharing of costs and resources, thereby increasing the cost effectiveness of training;
- Enabling benchmarking of training, thereby providing the opportunity for the scope of training programmes to be assessed and enhanced;
- Enabling mentoring, sharing workload and learning together, to increase the level of support and informal trainer staff development between HEIs which positively impacts on the quality and range of training offered;
- Enabling the sharing of ideas, providing more opportunities for teaching innovations;
- Gaining recognition for your HEIs' high quality training provision, thereby enhancing their reputation;
- Collaborating groups can demonstrate successes in designing, delivering and evaluating joint training and development provision, thus strengthening joint grant applications for training and development projects or winning funding for research(ers);
- Increasing the range of experiences and the size of the class to an optimum level can enrich the discussions that take place, providing a more interesting environment for the participants.
Barriers and enablers.
Despite having clear benefits, the attendees of the Creating Collaborations workshop identified a number of potential barriers to collaborations that were explored during the course of discussions and, in the process, highlighted good practice that has been employed to circumvent these barriers during the creation of their own collaborations (see table 1.).
Table1. Table of perceived barriers to creating collaborations and their associated solutions (characterised as enablers) that were identified by a number (n=9) of staff supporting researcher development. Information has been grouped into five themes that included: 1) Management and delivery of researcher development programmes; 2) Institutional culture; 3) Resources; 4) Mobility; and 5) Legal issues.
|1.Management and delivery of researcher development programmes.||
Different HEI's infrastructures are used to manage and deliver training:
|Avoid overcomplicating and over-managing processes:
|2.Institutional culture|| HEI's operate in a competitive environment in relation to obtaining research staff, research students and winning research funding:
||Accept that there may be limits and work within them, whilst demonstrating the benefits.
|3.Resources||There are financial and human resource costs associated with sharing/collaborating and this could lead to concerns over:
||Avoid overcomplicating and over-managing the processes and use a flexible approach can elevate the strain on resources by:
|4.Mobility||Inertia of participants to take up training opportunities at other institutions:
||Offer free transport for researchers to other institutions on occasions to make the travelling process as easy as possible and remove the cost to the researcher.
|5.Legal issues||Software licenses do not extend beyond each HEI.
||It is possible to overcome these issues:
It is clear from the information gathered in this workshop that: where there is a willingness to collaborate; an appreciation of potential barriers and limitations; as well as possible enablers; there can be (and currently are) successful collaborations.
Key areas for the consideration by anyone creating new collaborations should include 1) The management and delivery of researcher development programmes, 2) The institutional culture, 3) Resources, 4) Mobility, and 5) Legal issues. While successful collaborations appear to have a number of important features in these areas including: the formation of a cross university collaboration team to manage the collaborations; avoiding overcomplicating and over-managing processes; using agreed models for collaboration that work within boundaries set by institutional culture that provide enough flexibility for coordination and collaboration to take place in any acceptable and useful form; and taking into account any limitations (both legal and practical).
These considerations are exemplified in Appendix A. Case study of accessing training at the University of Sunderland.
As a final note, the authors of it document wish to acknowledge that the guidance provided is based on the experiences of building collaborations at a limited number of HEIs with only one case study documented which has not been considered beyond the boundaries of a small workshop. As a consequence, it should be considered as a short report on the Creating Collaboration workshop that contains a number of useful points for guidance but should never be considered as a definitive guidance. However, it does provide a reference point for comparisons by other HEIs across the UK that can result in the generation of such a guide if it is deemed appropriate.