The Nurse Review 2023: The Value and Culture of Researcher Mobility

Policy brief: The Nurse review of the UK’s research, development and innovation (RDI) organisational landscape.

A researcher in a lab environment wearing a facemask

Sir Paul Nurse’s independent review of the UK’s research, development and innovation (RDI) organisational landscape, published on Monday 6 March, proposes an overhaul to the patchwork of processes and priorities that have evolved in the UK over decades. It calls for long-term investment and planning around RDI to support productivity and economic growth, as well as attention to support for RDI beyond universities.

'Empowering researchers so they deliver a research endeavour that drives the economic, societal and strategic benefits necessary for the future success of the UK' Nurse independent review, 2023

While the Nurse review focuses on the complexities of UK RDI bureaucracy, there is much in it of relevance to those working on researcher development. By emphasising the breadth of the RDI landscape, it underscores the importance of non-linear researcher career paths for society and the economy. It reinforces the importance of the work researcher developers are doing on career development for postdoctoral researchers, while highlighting the need for more attention to the implications of an increasingly connected and mobile research workforce.

We’ve summarised our three key takeaways from the final report:

First, the emphasis on the permeability of people, ideas, and skills. As researcher developers already recognise, there is a need for culture change around expectations and hiring processes to support greater mobility of researchers between academia and industry. This is likely to become an ever stronger driver of policy and practice in the next few decades, highlighting an urgent need not only to rethink how researchers are valued and assessed, but the skills and language they need to operate effectively across sectors. Researcher developers can play an important role in this, bringing together researchers, employers, and senior leaders into conversations on training needs, research assessment, and employability.

Second, the attention to the diversity of the RDI landscape and the unevenness of support for research across sectors. While the report focuses on issues of under-resourcing outside of universities, there is scope to consider how a greater focus on collaboration and exchange might also result in greater coherence within the RDI system. Researcher developers might want to consider how their experience of training and supporting researchers might inform the development of researcher development in small businesses, for example, or in the heritage and cultural sector. Placements, moreover, could represent a crucial mechanism for skills exchange, as well as for increasing the research capacity of businesses and other organisations.

Third, the framing of research culture as ‘embracing ethical behaviour; strong international collaboration; and financial sustainability’. While research culture is not the main focus of the review, the report nevertheless provides clear steer that the benefits of RDI for the economy cannot be realised without culture change, and that government has a role in supporting positive RDI practices. As research culture becomes an ever more important focus for researcher developers, there will be an ongoing need to evidence just how crucial inclusive and healthy research cultures are for impactful and high quality research.

Overall, Vitae welcomes the Nurse review and the opportunity it offers to get people and culture back on the research policy agenda. The need for renewed commitment to the value of researchers to RDI and beyond is key and we look forward to seeing commitments being developed into concrete and collaborative actions to ensure rewarding careers for all. 

Policy brief by Dr Yolana Pringle, Vitae Policy and Evidence Manager