UKRSA endorses the refreshed Researcher Development Concordat

Posted 23/10/2019 by Sarah Nalden

UKRSA, in association with Vitae, aims to provide a collective voice for research staff across the UK, through building researcher communities and influencing policy. Read about their reaction to the Researcher Development Concordat.

Concordat and UKRSA

The UK Research Staff Association (UKRSA) fully supports the publication of the revised Researcher Development Concordat, which contains vital requirements for improving the working environment and professional development of researchers. The challenge now is for all the key players to work together to implement the principles using innovative approaches, and ensure that improvements are made to research culture progressively and continuously over the next few years.

We are glad that the Concordat is an aspirational, living document that will be regularly updated, and that a UKRSA representative is a member of the Concordat Strategy Group to provide UK researchers with a voice on whether healthier research environments are being created as intended.    

The refreshed Concordat sets out clear expectations for all key parties (institutions, funders, managers of researchers and researchers) to together create the more supportive and inclusive culture necessary for conducting excellent research. The competitiveness of the academic career has been made explicit, and the realistic assumption has been made that the majority of researchers will choose or be forced by short-term academic contracts to leave academia. The Concordat makes clear that such transitions to other sectors should be better supported, and that UK researchers make a significant contribution to the UK economy.

Concordat cover

That said, UKRSA are actively campaigning for a well-planned and substantially-funded nationwide project to track researchers’ career paths from completion of their doctoral degree till retirement. Existing evidence on researchers’ destinations is grossly out of date and limited in scope. Thus, providing researchers with the necessary support they need to confidently take the next career step is likely to be inadequate until such data are available.

UKRSA specifically advocated for the expectation of time and opportunities for researchers to undertake professional development, with a minimum of 10 days pro rata per year, and an additional 20% of their time for researchers to develop their research identity and broader leadership skills. We are disappointed that the specific mention of ‘20%’ has been removed, but are pleased that the principle of having time for development has been retained and that several institutions are considering implementing policies with specified amounts of time. We call on the Funders to evaluate how they can best support such policies. Such allowance of time should enable researchers to make successful transitions to other industries or pursue academic careers as they choose.

Similarly, we endorse the requirement that managers of researchers invest in their own leadership development to enhance their effectiveness. They should then be better prepared to engage in meaningful and regular career development discussions with their researchers. Staff within the wider community are also expected to undertake essential activities such as mentoring researchers and being positive role models.

Another area of concern for researchers is the prevalence of short, fixed-term contracts which the majority of the UKRSA members have had to navigate. This Concordat does highlight that employers and funders should be looking at providing more stable careers through bridging funds, open contracts and redeployment. The Concordat acknowledges “that long-term systemic changes are needed, which can only be released through collective action across stakeholders” and this needs to be addressed as a long-standing challenge. UKRSA welcomes ideas on how this could be done.

In summary, UKRSA thanks everyone, especially the many researchers, who have contributed to the updated Researcher Development Concordat. We believe that its’ publication presents exciting opportunities and the impetus to initiate systemic change. UKRSA will do its part to ensure such change occurs, not least by providing a collective voice for researchers, assisting with setting up Research Staff Associations, encouraging better researcher representation in institutions, and sharing practice.

UKRSA believes the revised Researcher Development Concordat will lead to better working lives and greater career success for all UK researchers