Research concordat survey

Higher education sector consultation - The 'concordat' and support for research careers

Are you research active in a higher education institution? The sector needs to hear your voice now.

A sector-wide consultation is taking place on a major code of conduct for the employment or researchers and the career support of research active staff in higher education. This will affect the way funding councils and universities behave and the way they employ research active staff.

UCU is the voice of academic staff and we need to ensure that that voice is heard clearly in this consultation.

To support our response to this consultation we need you to answer a few key questions for us to help demonstrate that these proposals command support among researchers. These questions are taken from the concordat consultation document.

Fill in our survey now >

We would encourage you to respond to the whole survey also and we provide a link and guidance on how to do this below.

Background

The Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers was established in 2008 and signed by all major organisations involved in research training in the UK. The stated aim of the concordat was to improve careers and employment for research staff.

UCU was involved in the development of the concordat but did not sign the final document as we felt that it missed the opportunity to make firm recommendations on employment security.

Now, ten years later, an independent review of the concordat has made a series of recommendations for improving the document, many of which UCU welcomes.

However, there will now be a consultation involving funding bodies and universities as well as staff. UCU can play a big role in making sure that the voice of staff if not drowned out.

The Concordat Strategy Group has now issued a consultative survey based on the findings of the review.

We need as many researchers as possible to respond to this survey.

Fill in our survey now >

Then respond to the full consultation >

UCU guidance on answering the concordat survey in full

Please feel free to use the following guidance to answer on key questions in the consultation:

Question 11: In general, do you support the proposed structure of the revised Concordat to include:
Principles
Obligations

Best practice

UCU says: One of the major weaknesses in the concordat and one of the key explanations for why it has had a limited impact, was the fact that in key areas it contained no obligations. In relation to employment security for example, there wasn't even a principle, let along an obligation. It is important that all sector bodies feel ownership of it of course, but there is no point in a document that everyone owns but which has no tangible impact on researchers lives. So it's important to insist on the need for obligations.

Question 15: Do you agree with the recommendation to explicitly broaden the definition of 'researchers' to include all staff engaged in research?

Strongly agree, Agree, Undecided, Disagree, Strongly disagree

UCU says: The proposed new definition would include all staff who are research active (whether or not primarily hired as researchers), such as postdoctoral researchers, research assistants and associates, research fellows, technicians, and 'hidden researchers' (e.g. teaching fellows, hourly paid teaching staff who are research active). This is important for the concordat as it builds in recognition that academic career paths vary across disciplines and that all who conduct research need support from their institutions and recognition from funding councils, regardless of what kind of contract they are on.

Question 18:  Support for researchers' to develop their research identity

In principle, there should be increased support for researchers to develop their career and research identity:

Strongly agree      Agree Undecided   Disagree      Strongly disagree

UCU says: One of the very positive aspects of the proposed revision to the concordat is the recognition that research staff should have time allocated to them within their contracts and within grant funding to pursue their own research agenda or to develop their academic careers beyond the outcomes of their project or the confines of their contracts. It is likely that there will be funding bodies and universities that do not see this in the same way. It's vital that researchers and research active academics who support this idea demonstrate strong support.

Question 19: How should the Concordat support researchers to develop their career and research identity?

Funders place "increased emphasis and support on uptake of 10 days' training"

Employers place "increased emphasis and support on uptake of 10 days' training"

Allocated time within grants for developing researcher independence"

20% of a researcher's time allowed for developing independent research and skills"

Strongly agree      Agree Undecided   Disagree      Strongly disagree

UCU says: The above are all suggestions made in the independent review for ways in which researchers can be given time within contracts and grants to develop their own research or careers. UCU recommends that respondents indicate support for all the options, making it clear that responsibility lies with both funders and employers to ensure time for BOTH the uptake of training AND time for independent research.

Question 21: Fixed-term contracts:

UCU recommends strong support for the revised concordat 'encouraging solutions to the problems of fixed-term contracts. The review highlights the prevalence of fixed term contracts, the need to be mobile and a lack of progression and promotion opportunities for research staff

The issue of fixed-term contracts and short-term funding is the biggest issue facing researchers today. No one is saying it's easy to solve and the funding councils have a major role to play but there is no doubt that universities can do more than most of them do to create greater employment security.

UCU believes that a concordat that contained a clear steer to universities to work to reduce fixed-term contracts could have a positive effect on the sector. The original concordat fudged this issue and failed to issue a clear message to institutions about fixed-term contracts. The sector cannot be allowed to do this again.

This is another area where we need a strong message from researchers - to ensure that a revised concordat is clearer on the need to create more stable employment.

Question 22: Further thoughts on fixed-term contracts

Please provide some commentary to explain your answer [to Q21]. How should the revised concordat address the use of fixed term contracts? What alternative models and existing good practice should be considered?

UCU says: As we noted above this is not a simple issue to fix and it needs action from all in the system, but we've argued that more universities should make a move to open-ended contracts as this places the onus on universities to manage (and pay for) redundancies proactively and enables researchers to access mortgage lending, for example. This should also be supported by funding councils creating longer grants with conditions requiring employers to pay greater attention to the employment conditions and career development of research staff. Finally, we've argued that employers can make use of more strategic bridging funds to support investment in research where external funding is interrupted. Crucially, universities should be sitting down with UCU to negotiate improvements collectively. 

Members will have their own ideas, but it would be helpful to ensure that these broad policy points are being made too.

Last updated: 6 November 2018