GW4 Open Research Prize 2023: Theory of Change

By Christopher Warren, Assistant Research Support Librarian

Following straight on from January’s blog, Change is the word! In 2023, the GW4 Alliance hosted their Open Research Week at the end of November with the theme of The Theory of Change showcasing a broad range of open research practices which make research more visible, accessible, transparent and reproducible (or, Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, Reusable – FAIR). 

This year GW4 opted hold a competitive award event in that week to elevate, celebrate and promote best academic practice: the GW4 Open Research Prize 2023. 

Graphic promoting GW4's Open Research Prize 2023, including the logos from all 4 GW4 institutions: University of Bath, University of Bristol, Cardiff University, University of Exeter


In 2021 the University of Bristol started our own institutional Open Research Prize, with a second event following in 2022. From the success of those, and working with our colleagues at Bath, Cardiff and Exeter as well as the GW4 team, the new GW4 Open Research Prize built on our past work and opened it out to researchers from all four institutions.

To our original two categories – Improving Quality and Widening Reach – GW4 added a prize specifically for Posters, and, with the Bristol University Press (BUP), an Early Career Publishing Prize category for ECRs writing monographs. The amounts of prize money for each category was raised as well, as well as the chance for the Publishing Prize winner to work with BUP explore publication of their doctoral thesis.

Events and awards

After an initial submission period, we invited entries short-listed to attend an afternoon online conference through Zoom, where all entries sent in a short pre-recorded case study presentation video – so there would be a level playing-field for all. Q&As were taken after each between presenter and audience. At previous UOB events we had split judging between a panel of judges and a popular vote from those attending, but here the decision on choosing winning entries was made by the audience alone (other than for the monograph prize, see below).

GW4 Open Research Prize for Widening Reach

The winning entry for Widening Reach was Matt Lloyd Jones of University of Exeter (Penryn Campus): Exploring the potential of using simulation games for engaging with sheep farmers about sheep lameness

This study codesigned a videogame with farmers and vets to identify lameness in sheep. It showed an open, involved process, increasing uptake and impact among those it benefitted. Publications from it were preregistered and published as Open Access. The data itself was published as FAIR data, in an Open repository. It demonstrated excellent Open Research practice, while being honest about the limitations and costs involved in the project.

GW4 Open Research Prize for Improving Quality

The winning entry in the Improving Quality category was a team from the University of Exeter Katie Young, Pedro Cardoso, Laura Guedemann, Rhian Hopkins with their study: Improving reproducibility and transparency of diabetes research with electronic health care records

This study took electronic health data, messy at source, and applied Open Research practices to make it reproducible and transparent. They wrote code so it could be securely shared with clinicians for validation, creating safe, clean data all in one place, that would help reduce researchers’ workload, raising quality and facilitating protocol approval. This was excellent science, showing the benefits of applying Open Research practices in a key area.

GW4 Open Research Prize for Poster submission

The winner in the Poster Prize category was Eoin Cremen of University of Bath: “The influence of AI advice on decision-making strategies in a hypothesis testing task”

The winning poster (which can be viewed here: The influence of AI advice on decision-making strategies in a hypothesis testing task) focused on how people use AI to search for health results. Focusing on ‘aches’, this looked at running a feasibility study for checking the AI-advice provided to test the diagnosis and see whether this is accurate and relevant to the information given.

GW4 Early Career Publishing Prize

The winning Publishing Prize entry was judged ahead of the event by a cross-institution panel of judges working with the BUP. This was an entirely new prize category for us, not having worked on selecting or awarding a monograph prize before.

In first place was Bristol’s own Alison Oldfield, University of Bristol: Going to the farm: A sociomaterial ethnography of autistic young people in a natural environment.

Alison’s thesis, on which her winning submission was based, can be found through the UOB Research Portal here: Thesis: Going to the farm

**Details of all taking part is available from GW4 or the School of Education blog here: GW4 Open Research Prize 2023: Winners announced!

Wrapping up

The Open Research Prize was a great day, bringing together many strands from across the Open Research Week and a chance for colleagues to celebrate and recognise each other’s achievement.

The next prize will be in the spring of 2025. Bath University, which is another of the GW4 institutions, will be taking the reins on organising this prize, but watch out for events and updates via GW4’s website or on our own Open Research pages.


Christopher Warren – Assistant Research Support Librarian

Christopher Warren is an Assistant Research Support Librarian with the Research Data Service, a section of the Library Services’ Research Support Team that deals with all matters relating to Research Data Management. We’re based online and on the 1st floor of Augustine’s Courtyard. Please contact or for more information.


Teaching Bureaucracy Review: Listening, learning, and acting

By Professor Tansy Jessop (PVC Education and Students (biography available online) and Paula Coonerty (Executive Director for Education and Students)


In 2023, the APVC for Research Culture, Professor Marcus Munafo, initiated an internal review into teaching bureaucracy, following on from the internal review into research bureaucracy.

Within an organisation as large and complex as the University, a certain level of bureaucracy is necessary to ensure that we have timetables that don’t clash, students are registered on the right units, and well-qualified academics deliver teaching. In contrast to ‘necessary’ bureaucracy, this review focused on staff views of excessive, overly complicated, and hierarchical systems and processes.

University of Bristol employees at a discussion session about teaching activity


Between February and March 2023, external consultants ran discussion sessions that were open to all staff (academic and professional services) involved in teaching activity. The purpose was to understand their experiences, identify pain points and see what works well. The sessions were advertised in the Staff Bulletin and the Education Bulletin. A total of 55 staff attended small focus group sessions (ten in total). Most participants (87%) were Pathway 1 or 3 teaching staff, and all three faculties were represented.

In analysing the results from the sessions, the consultants commended the ‘passion and dedication that the participants had for their teaching’, which is something we don’t take for granted. Our recent Silver award in TEF 2023 would not have been possible without incredibly dedicated staff delivering inspiring teaching and an outstanding student experience. So, what is getting in the way that we can improve?


Post-It notes stuck to a table

The findings from the review are based on a small sample size, but many of the common themes replicate feedback provided via other routes (e.g. the research bureaucracy review, the Staff Voice workshops held in 2023, network forums, and anecdotal reports about staff experience).

Pain points

  • General process and system inefficiencies. An increase over the years in bureaucracy, complex processes, and inefficient, outdated systems.
  • Standardisation and the ‘one size fits all’ perception. Participants felt that standardization was stifling creativity and ignoring local context.
  • Culture of compliance. More emphasis placed on compliance and less on local innovation and autonomy.
  • Challenges when processes operate at scale. Processes and IT systems are no longer fit-for-purpose in a context of growing student numbers.
  • Volume of change. The volume of change adds to workload and detracts from the core business of teaching and enhancing the student experience. Plus staff feel disconnected from large change programmes and the drivers for change are often unclear.
  • Changing nature of the student body. Increasing numbers of international students and students with additional support entails workload challenges.
  • Teaching standards and high-quality teaching. Staff feel there is more focus on metrics (such as the NSS) than on high-quality teaching. Alongside this, Bristol is seen as valuing research over teaching.

Examples of good practice

  • Expert support provided by highly skilled, knowledgeable professional services staff who are eager to help.
  • Individual roles and teams dedicated to supporting innovation.
  • Transformational system and process changes delivered by the Education Administration Enhancement project.

The full report is available on SharePoint (UoB staff access only).


A drawing of a lightbulb which is illuminated, alongside several unlit lightbulbs


Here are some of the changes we are making:

  • Qwickly has been decommissioned and replaced with a new Check-In app and system for monitoring student attendance.
  • Blackboard is being upgraded to Blackboard Ultra, which includes many new and improved features.
  • The Education Administration Enhancement (EAE) project focuses on continuous improvements to systems relating to finance, education, admissions and recruitment (e.g. eVision). For example, from 2023/24 live information about Study Support Plans (SSPs) is available in eVision for personal tutors and unit directors to review.
  • UPMS was identified as a pain point in the review, but there are currently no plans to change this system as a new curriculum management system would require significant investment, integration costs, and large-scale institutional change.


There are several initiatives in train that in the long-term will help manage workload, but in the short-term require staff time and effort to make changes.

  • The new Structure of the Academic Year (SAY) is designed to help contain workloads and support student and staff wellbeing. However, we know that in the short-term, SAY changes are time costly and entail extra work for many staff.
  • TB1 assessments will take place before Christmas with a dedicated marking week before the start of TB2, and staff will be able to start teaching in TB2 without marking hanging over them. Students should receive their feedback before they start their new units too.
  • Reassessment activity has been brought forward to create more space during the summer for staff to concentrate on research and take annual leave. This will also ensure the period at the end of the summer vacation is less intense. As part of the new SAY, we are also introducing streamlined Examination Boards, thereby reducing duplication and multiple touchpoints.
  • High assessment loads (and associated high workload for staff) go against the integrated and inclusive principles of our Assessment and Feedback Strategy. In 2023 we held workshops with schools to support reductions in summative assessment load, balanced by more engaging formative assessment and feedback.
  • In some larger schools, different personal tutoring models are being piloted (e.g. placing some of the student support functions provided by personal tutors with professional services staff) and the results are feeding into the Professional Services Transformation Programme (PSTP) (see ‘next steps’).


Our fortnightly Education Bulletin, introduced during Covid-19, is our main regular communication channel about education. In addition, the Bristol Institute for Learning and Teaching (BILT) releases a fortnightly briefing full of inspiring, thoughtful and exciting practices and ideas from colleagues. We also have dedicated communication channels for special projects. Our new SharePoint site for the upgrade to Blackboard Ultra is where you will be able to find latest updates. Similarly, the University Structures programme has a SharePoint site, as does the SAY project where you can find information about these change projects.

We heard from the Teaching Bureaucracy Review that we need to be better at communicating when work is paused, or only limited progress is being made. When there is a communications vacuum this creates space for uncertainty and staff feel they are being kept out of the loop. We will learn from this and share this finding with teams leading education-related projects.

Consultation and engagement

We are continuing to listen to staff and introducing new ways for you to provide feedback.

Since 2020 we have introduced networks to provide space for staff in similar roles to connect, discuss common challenges and share good practice. We now have networks for School Education Directors, Senior Tutors, Academic Integrity Officers, Student Disability Coordinators, Student Administration Managers and Graduate Administration Managers. In January 2024 we launched a new Student Academic Representation Network which brings together staff and students involved in Student Staff Liaison Committees (SSLCs).

From spring 2024 a new Admissions and Recruitment Committee has been convened to connect Faculty Admissions Officers with central staff in Admissions.

As part of upgrading to Blackboard Ultra, we are establishing a project advisory group. We will be seeking members from across the University, to ensure your voices are feeding into the implementation plan.

At the time of writing this, the 2024 Staff Experience Survey has just closed and we look forward to reviewing any feedback from that survey which relates to your experience of teaching and education.

Next steps

While this blog provides a flavour of some of the changes we are currently making, the detailed findings of the teaching bureaucracy report have been passed onto relevant teams and leaders to consider.

We welcome the time staff took to attend the discussion sessions and the final report is a fantastic source of evidence for the PSTP. The PSTP launched in 2023 and its purpose is to review and transform how we deliver services, reducing bureaucracy and improving ways of working. Education and student support services has been identified as a priority focus for the PSTP, with areas such as assessment processes, provision of information, and student wellbeing support identified as important. This work picks up on pain points raised via the teaching bureaucracy review).

You can find more information online about the PSTP.

Changes ahead: doing change well

‘Change’ seems to be the word of the day, every day – change is part of everyday life and work. Humans must adapt to survive, and so must universities. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. The dream is to manage change so well that it becomes part of the day job, and we’re so comfortable with it that we don’t even notice that change is happening. But how realistic is that? The familiar sense of ‘change fatigue’ comes not always from too much change, but from change that isn’t done well.

What does the University do to manage change?

Aiming to ensure that change is done well is the University’s Change Management Team. The team comprises professionally-accredited Change Managers working to support change across the University by preparing people to deliver the University’s ambitions. The team has developed its own model for managing change, with the intention of getting it used across the University by everyone leading and managing change, whether it be a relatively small local change or a large strategic initiative. The framework, which is simply called ‘5 Steps to Successful Change’, puts the University ahead of most within the Higher Education sector.

By following the ‘5 steps’ we take the impact on people into account, and adequately plan for change, thereby ensuring that people retain a sense of control over what is happening and can play their part in long term successful change. It necessitates those leading change to really interrogate the reasons for change, so that they can speak about change honestly and consistently, and in a way that is meaningful to those impacted. The ‘5 Steps’ also helps to ensure as much as possible that people can maintain their day-to-day work during times of change.

5 steps to successful change – University of Bristol Change Team

To facilitate successful use of the ‘5 step’ model, the Change Team operates as business partners. Whilst a consistent approach to change is essential, it also needs to be contextualized, and by working as partners with each Faculty and Division, the Change Managers can tailor the approach to change to consider what is unique about each part of the University and advise on planning for change accordingly.

Why is change so difficult?

If there is a team dedicated to managing change, and it has a sector leading approach, why then does change appear to be so hard to do well?  To a certain extent, change will always be difficult, particularly in an organisation the size of the University, with multiple cultures at play, and concurrent initiatives requiring many people to play a part in change. Most significantly, change is difficult because of the factor of human emotion. Remaining in our comfort zones is a safer place to be, requiring less energy and threat, meaning that it is normal to desire to move away from change.

The reality of change either posing threat or reward is something that the Change Team talk about in change management workshops, which run regularly for academic and professional services colleagues. If we consider a change that we have felt uncomfortable with, it’s likely that it has posed some threat to us. David Rock’s SCARF model identifies five key factors that impact the extent to which we feel threatened or rewarded by a change. It provides interesting insights into why we may feel differently about certain changes than others, and how these manifest in our reactions to change.

SCARF model – David Rock, 2009

Change fatigued?

To return to the notion of ‘change fatigue’, change is tiring, and it impacts people differently from one individual to the next depending on their history of change, what else is going on for them at the same time, and the extent to which they are either threatened or rewarded by it. Change requires us to psychologically process the change before we can fully move with it, and this alone is tiring, even without having to continue with our day jobs and personal lives at the same time. The extent to which we feel a sense of influence or control over the change is also a key factor. Whilst we may not have ultimate control over whether a change happens, if we can feel a sense of control by understanding the true reasons for change, feeling well informed and understanding what’s expected of us (the first step in the 5 Steps to Successful Change), then that all helps to lessen the sense of fatigue and equip people with the energy to change.

So, whilst we must accept that we must adapt to survive and that change will usually be difficult, by following the ‘5 Steps to Successful Change’, we can set ourselves up to manage change in a way which stands the greatest chance of success with minimal negative impact on people.

Contact the Change Team

Author: Julia Davies – Head of Change Management, University of Bristol

Please contact to find out how the Change Team can support change in your part of the University.

Open Research for a week (and longer), at Bristol (and elsewhere!)

By Neil Jacobs, Head of UK Reproducibility Network Open Research Programme

Perhaps understandably, a lot of attention has been given to the initial decisions about REF2028 and, in particular, to the direction taken on People, Culture and Environment. “Open research” features strongly here; not only Open Access publishing, but transparency in a much deeper and wider sense (perhaps following last year’s UNESCO Open Science Recommendation, which the UK has signed). This will challenge governments, funders and universities to demonstrate real progress.

In response Bristol has partnered with the universities of Reading and Zurich, the UK Reproducibility Network (UKRN), and UNESCO to produce a guide to help institutions implement the Recommendation, which will be released during Open Research Week (20-24 November). In fact, that will be a busy week! The GW4 Alliance has arranged events to help researchers more easily adopt open research practices, and this complements the UKRN’s Open Research Programme (that Bristol leads), which is also stepping up its activities. Those will run to August 2027.

Training is a key foundation for open research. The UKRN Open Research Programme has just released a schedule of train-the-trainer opportunities, covering topics as diverse as open software / code, research collaboration, open research and ethics, and embedding open research in undergraduate practice. There will be more information about these opportunities soon. In the meantime, Open Research Week sees an introduction to open research (see also UKRN’s resources for different disciplines), and events on both open source hardware (see also UKRN primer) and rights retention (see also UKRN primer).

Trainers (both formal and informal) will learn from each other in local and disciplinary communities. The UKRN Programme is launching a national trainer community of practice, and Open Research Week sees several GW4/Bristol events on sharing research data (introductory, sensitive data, qualitative data, life science data) that will strengthen communities here at Bristol that can promote training in open research.

However, training is not enough. Unless researchers feel that being open will help their career, then they may not want to invest their time.

The UKRN Programme is working with a group of over 20 UK universities to reform the way they recruit, promote and appraise staff, to recognise open research practices. Bristol is one of those universities, and there is an event in Open Research Week on making research assessments fairer, as a part of this. UKRN is also working with major international initiatives, such as CoARA and the OPUS Project, to make sure the UK and other countries are coordinated.

But how will Bristol and UKRN institutions more generally monitor progress and see the benefits of open research? One part of this is the digital plumbing. To monitor, we need reliable data, and that means using things like ORCIDs and Digital Object Identifiers (DOIs) – Persistent Identifiers for people, projects, universities, funders, research papers and so on. You can learn more about these during Open Research Week. They will be at the heart of UKRN’s work with around 15 universities, including Bristol, to develop and pilot some indicators of open research in 2024.

One of the things that universities can do to support their research community in the move to open research is to have the best possible policy, that sets out our aspirations, and the expectations that we can have of each other in meeting those aspirations. Bristol’s draft policy will be released for consultation during Open Research Week. It has been informed by policies elsewhere and by discussions with other universities, enabled by the UKRN ethos of collaboration rather than competition to promote better research.

A Better Research Pathway: Research Staff Reps and Concordat Champions Meet the VC 

On 14 September, Concordat Champions and Research Staff Reps gathered in Beacon House with the University of Bristol Vice-Chancellor, Professor Evelyn Welch, to delve into the challenges that research staff currently face and explore solutions for constructive changes towards a better Research Career Pathway. This is underpinned by the university’s commitment to implementing the principles of the Concordat to support the career development of researchers, which is an agreement between UK funders and employers of research staff.  

The event began with presentations by the Concordat Champion and Research Staff Reps committee chairs, to shed light on the current state of affairs for research staff in academia. Areas in which Bristol can have (and already is having) an impact and leading role nationally were highlighted, including the recent move from fixed-term to open-ended contracts for research staff. However, a survey of principal investigators has revealed significant negative impacts faced in terms of recruitment and retention of research staff due to uncompetitive salaries, job precarity, and the high cost of living in Bristol, resulting in a loss of talent to more lucrative positions in industry or academic institutions abroad. In particular, this is having a disproportionately high impact on staff relocating to Bristol from overseas due to very high visa and immigration surcharge costs. In this regard, Bristol’s reimbursement policy is out of step with other UK institutions.

Dr Chris Penfold, co-chair of the Research Staff Reps. Committee, discussing the role of the reps. and current activities helping to enhance the research staff experiences and culture.

After a brief interlude for coffee and cookies, Evelyn took to the stage, describing her own experiences of life as an early career researcher and lecturer and the accompanying job insecurity, and her past experiences implementing the concordat in UK research institutions. She shared a genuine desire to listen to the concerns of research staff and to be of service to the research community.

Professor Evelyn Welch, Vice Chancellor, describing her own experiences as an early career researcher and commitment to the researcher development concordat.

The VCs opening remarks were followed by an open forum, with researchers posing questions including plans to improve university policy on costs incurred by staff from overseas, alternatives to funding-limited contracts and associated redeployment, improving access to the university nursery for short-term research staff, and giving the concordat action plan “teeth” to improve the career progression and prospects of all researchers and staff in research adjacent roles.

The VC’s responses and commitment to addressing these concerns were met with optimism towards positive change. She underlined the remarkable talent and dedication of the university’s research staff, acknowledging their vital contribution to the university’s success. In her own words:

“Positive change comes from listening to your concerns… we get it right when we listen.”

As we move forward, plans are underway for regularly VC gatherings, to continue towards a better research pathway and a more inclusive research culture.

More information on the Research Staff Reps Committee, Concordat Governance Group, and the Research Staff Working Party and associated contacts can be found at the Bristol Clear Staff Development Webpages.

Bristol and the Africa Charter: Tackling power imbalances in research collaborations

By Susan Jim and Caroline McKinnon

What the Africa Charter for Transformative Research Collaborations means to the University, local communities and diaspora will be explored during the event, “Bristol and the Africa Charter”, co-hosted by Professor Marcus Munafò, Associate Pro Vice-Chancellor for Research Culture, the Inclusive Research Collective (IRC) and the Perivoli Africa Research Centre (PARC), 12h30-17h00 on Tue 31 October 2013, MShed, Bristol. For more details and to book your ticket please see Eventbrite link

Research and the processes of producing knowledge are not free from power imbalances and inequities. All stages of research – from the development of ideas for inquiry and the conception of research projects, to data collection, analysis, publication, dissemination of and access to research outputs – involve relations among actors with different degrees of explicit and implicit power. African decolonial literatures show that the web of power relations between African and other actors involved in knowledge production is profoundly shaped by colonial experiences and legacies.  

To begin conversations on how to redress these imbalances, the Perivoli Africa Research Centre (PARC) and the Inclusive Research Collective (IRC) collaborated on the ‘Small Talks for Big Change‘ seminar series. This was a series of six virtual talks in which speakers from the African continent discussed post- and de-colonial perspectives on, and lived experiences of, the multiple layers of power imbalances present within Global North-Africa research collaborations.

An initial seminar introduced the work of PARC and the series aims, and the remaining events explored the major layers of power imbalances in research collaborations between the Global North and researchers in the African continent, including: 

  • the inequalities in practical collaboration arrangements – Dr Catherine Kyobutungi, African Population and Health Research Centre 
  • the dominance of western-centric epistemologies, languages, theories and concepts in the production of scientific knowledge – Dr Divine Fuh, University of Cape Town
  • the “development frame” which confines the majority of the research on the continent to an international development or aid agenda – Professor Puleng Segalo, University of South Africa
  • the vast disparities in institutional resourcing – Professor Alex Ezeh, Drexel University 

The final event with Professor Agnes Nairn, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Global Engagement) at the University of Bristol discussed the need to go beyond current models of equitable collaborative models and the development of an Africa-centred Charter and guiding framework for transforming research collaborations with Africa. 

The layers of power imbalances within research collaborations

The Africa Charter for Transformative Research Collaborations 

In a joint endeavour, Africa’s major higher education bodies including the Association of African Universities (AAU), the African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA), the Inter-University Council for Eastern Africa (IUCEA), the Association of West African Universities (AWAU), the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA), and the African Academy of Sciences (AAS), have co-created the Africa Charter for Transformative Research Collaborations; a framework for advancing a transformative mode of academic research collaborations with Africa that will serve to advance and uphold the continent’s contribution to global knowledge production.  The initiative is facilitated by PARC together with the Chief Albert Luthuli Research Chair, University of South Africa and the Institute for Humanities in Africa (HUMA) at the University of Cape Town. 

Going beyond existing equitable partnership frames, the Charter captures institutional commitment to, and shared principles, goals and approaches for, change in institutional and wider HE sector policies and standards in order to embed a mode of partnership working that redresses the multiple layers of power imbalances in Global North-Africa relations. Drawing on African intellectual thought, analyses of extant global scientific and equitable partnerships efforts, and dialogue with key HE and research actors in Europe, North America and others across the globe, the Charter:

1. articulates basic principles on how research collaborations need to be configured to redress the multi-layered power imbalances in Global North-Africa knowledge dynamics; and

2. sets out goals and guiding frameworks for institutional and HE-sector policy change to embed such a transformative collaboration mode.  

COREViP Conference 2023

 The Charter was launched in July 2013 at the AAU’s Biennial Conference of Rectors, Vice-Chancellors and Presidents of African Universities (COREVIP) in Windhoek, Namibia. This was followed by discussions in September 2013 at the Times Higher Education World Academic Summit in Sydney, Australia.

Updates on the Charter can be found here. 


The Future of Universities: Event recap

By Marcus Munafò

At the start of the summer, we held the second and third events in our Future of Universities series. The higher education landscape has seen significant changes over the past decade, influenced by  factors such as increasing tuition fees, rising costs of living and the COVID-19 pandemic. Our events delved into what teaching and the role of universities will look like in 2033.

Read on for a summary of the discussions from each event and watch our recordings to hear the full discussions!

The Future of Teaching

Chaired by Tansy Jessop (Pro Vice-Chancellor for Education, University of Bristol), this event featured experts from across the teaching system in higher education. We were delighted to be joined by Nicola Dandridge (Professor of Practice in Higher Education Policy, previously Chief Executive, Office for Students, 2017-22), who gave an excellent talk on how our approach to teaching should be molded around the students of the future rather than expecting students  to mold themselves around a predetermined model.

She considered external factors that will  influence the world over the next ten years, including a need for higher level skills,  economic and social pressures , and climate emergency that will affect what students choose to study and how we deliver teaching. With a recent UCAS report predicting huge increases in university applicants over the next decade, this is a particularly pertinent time to  have these discussions!

We then opened up the discussion to our panel for an interactive Q+A session with our audience. As you can expect from over an hour of expert discussions, we covered a lot! Some of the key points highlighted by our panel included;

  • The need for universities to give students the skills, knowledge and orientation to deal with the complexity and uncertainty of the modern world, and actively involving them in the learning experience rather than creating a system where they are passively receiving content.
  • The role of higher education institutions as diverse learning environments, whether the “jack of all trades” approach works in an increasingly competitive environment and if gaining a degree  is more than a box ticking exercise on the employability conveyor belt.
  • Conceptualising university education as a lifelong set of activities rather than a coming-of-age process for 18–21-year-olds
  • Recognising the challenges and pressures faced by teachers at universities and balancing the student and teacher requirements to ensure as positive an outcome possible for all involved including students, graduate teachers and technical staff

Watch Nicola’s talk and the full discussion here;

The Future Role of Universities in Society

The final event in our series focused on higher education’s role as a policy influencer and an enabler of the implementation of future technologies. We were joined by experts at the key decision-making points of higher education policy including Matt Western (Labour MP for Warwick and Leamington, Shadow Minister for Education) and Vivienne Stern (Chief Executive, Universities UK) alongside colleagues from across the university landscape.

This event naturally resulted in a broader discussion than our previous two events – it would be impossible to talk about the role of universities without discussing research and teaching, after all!  Therefore, we aimed to debate how the challenges and opportunities of the framework that higher education institutions operate in affect (and will affect in the future) our ability to both pioneer research and deliver a positive student experience.

Key discussion points raised by our panel and audience members included;

  • The loss of public trust in higher education institutions and how we regain that trust and sustainably grow the sector.
  • The increasing need to support PhD students and early career researchers as society faces further complex challenges which will require continued innovativation
  • A need for universities to push ourselves to further help employees and students develop skillsets for the changing world. Currently, too much of the onus to do this is on the individual.
  • As institutions, our responsibility is to champion the higher education sector and safeguard its future amidst public and government pressures while reconciling this with maintaining positive relations and recognising where the majority of university funding comes from – we can do this better.

Watch the full discussion here;

I’d like to take a moment to thank all our attendees over the course of these events, our panelists and chairs, and the Research Culture team for facilitating such in-depth discussions. We’re currently hard at work on allocating our 2024 Research Culture funding and organising the 2023-24 academic year’s events, and we look forward to sharing more information in due course!

Research Leave Policy

By Marcus Munafò

The House of Commons Science Innovation and Technology Committee recently released its report on their inquiry into reproducibility and research integrity. One recommendation is that the sector moves towards “A coordinated policy on minimum protected research time for research staff”. This recognises the increasing pressure we are under as student numbers grow, external pressures on the sector grow, and so on. Whereas in the past there was enough slack in the system to allow us to spend a period focusing on our research, planning our next major project and so on, this has gradually been eroded over the years.

Fortunately, Bristol is already taking steps to address this.

The new Structure of the Academic Year is intended to “make changes to when and how we do things in order to deliver our quality educational offering in a manageable and sustainable way following considerable growth in student numbers”. And we have also updated the University policy on Research Leave. The Protecting Quality Research & Enterprise Time Task & Finish Group was tasked with investigating options for a common university approach to Research Leave, with the intention of establishing a common framework for Schools to work within.

The full policy can be found on the Staff HR Sharepoint.

A tablet in a person's hands with Research in large text on the screen
Original Image: Nick Youngson

The policy applies to all Pathway 1 academic staff on core-funded, open-ended contracts who undertake teaching and research. Schools may choose to include Pathway 3 staff (e.g., who conduct pedagogic research) in their policies if they wish, for example if this can be a step towards career progression. In general, Pathway 2 staff are not expected to be included in School policies, or eligible to apply, but can be in exceptional cases where this is appropriate (e.g., Pathway 2 Professors) at the discretion of Schools.

Importantly, the policy is intended to be flexible; it asks Schools to develop a local policy, and provides a number of principles to guide the development of these. One challenge is that individuals Schools may not currently be in a position to offer research leave, for example because it would be difficult or impossible to re-allocate specific teaching to other staff. However, by asking Schools to be explicit about this, we will develop better awareness of the coverage achieved across Schools and Faculties, and what is needed to improve this.

The policy is only one part of a wider framework – we have University Research Fellowships that can support targeted, focused research activity, and a Returning Carers Scheme to help those returning from, for example, parental leave to re-establish their research programme. The hope is that these different mechanisms can, as far as possible, be considered as part of a coherent framework that provides both general (e.g., the Structure of the Academic Year, the Research Leave policy) and specific (e.g., University Research Fellowships, Returning Carers Scheme) mechanisms to address our needs in an integrated way.



Why is the Time Allocation Survey important, and what is the Transparent Approach to Costing?

By Sophie Collet, Conny Lippert, James Hackney, Marc Strydom and Sarah Everett-Cox 

With many competing pressures on our time at the moment, it is important we know why we are asked to do certain things. One example is the Time Allocation Survey (TAS), which is being carried out during this academic year (2022/23). There are three periods that form part of this return, and the third of these opens for completion from 1 August 2023.

The Transparent Approach to Costing (TRAC) is a sector-standard methodology used in the UK for costing universities’ main activities (teaching, research, and other). A key part of this approach is the TAS, which captures how our academic staff spend their time across the activity categories. It is a government requirement that all universities collect this data at least once every three years, although Bristol has agreed to run the TAS again in 2023/24 to ensure that the data are as accurate as possible, and that any changes in working practices noted in the current return are not outliers.

TAS return data are used to determine the average time per activity for each School, which in turn determines which activity and sponsor type to allocate institutional income and costs to. Funders have previously recognised that there have been pressures in the HEI system that encourage academics to overstate their time on research at the expense of teaching. The data captured by TAS responses provide one lens to inform our strategic decision-making, including understanding balance of activities and our resources, and allocation of internal funding, enabling the University to achieve its strategic goals.

Our annual TRAC return is also submitted to the Office for Students (OfS) each year and has direct implications for strategic planning decisions made at national level, such as in relation to the public funding of higher education.

It’s therefore crucial that the TAS data we collect are as accurate as possible.

There are a few key points we think are worth clarifying:

  • Conversations around workload planning (eg if you feel you are working excessive hours) should take place with line managers as a separate discussion outside TAS completion.
  • TAS requires a percentage allocation of ALL time worked (ie this should cover all of your working time and not just work completed in traditional office hours).
  • TAS is not an individual performance management tool. It’s designed and intended to show the balance of actual work completed over each period, and the analysis that is performed on this data will be aggregated at School and Faculty level.

University of Bristol colleagues can find further guidance on completing the TAS on the MyERP SharePoint site here, and you can contact if you have any questions about the TAS return.

You can find a more detailed explanation of the importance of TRAC and TAS in Why is TAS important, and what is TRAC? (PDF file).


Celebrating Technicians – a look at the past, present and future of technical roles in higher education and academia

Research culture can mean a lot of different things to different people. From improving diversity across the University to enabling better work through infrastructure improvements, much of our work focuses on making things better. However, celebrating the fantastic people and the work being carried out across our institution is also vital to research culture.

In June, we held an event to celebrate our technical staff at Bristol and further afield. Technical staff facilitate and support research and enterprise while also playing a significant role in implementing our education programmes for undergraduates and postgraduates.

As Andy Connelly, one of our guest speakers, noted, we were inspired by Dickens’ A Christmas Carol at this event, hearing three excellent and informative talks on Technicians of the Past, Present and Future. Read on to hear more about each speaker’s background, what we learned, and some of the key takeaways from our interactive panel discussion.

Nik Okgyzko – UKRI People and Teams Action Plan

Nik is part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), which was launched in 2018 and is the largest public research funder in the UK, bringing together seven disciplinary research councils, Research England and Innovate UK, and funding £7 billion per year into the research system.

Technicians are a vital part of our national research community: they underpin and support our investment in research; they design, build and maintain a significant portion of our infrastructure; and they support our research outputs by offering expertise and often carrying out research itself.

Technical roles are incredibly diverse, from operating across the arts and humanities to supporting some of the most complicated scientific endeavours. UKRI supports technicians in four key ways:

  1. Ensuring technicians are recognised and rewarded fairly and effectively by employers
  2. Assessing what is rewarded and invested in within the technical career pathway
  3. Creating clear expectations and assurances concerning where their investments go
  4. Providing clear engagement as to how they support the research sector

Andy Connelly – Technicians of the Past

Andy’s research into the history of technicians was inspired by his career as a technician, where he didn’t necessarily feel valued compared to the work he was carrying out.

For most of the history of science, technicians have been invisible because they tended to be servants. During the 17th-century era of the scientific revolution, technicians were referred to as lab rats, assistants or servants. Part of these roles involved giving up autonomy and credit for their work, operating instead as extensions of their masters’ wills.

This started to change during the 19th century, as a number of large scientific institutions created a career pathway for technicians, recognising them as employees and offering some promotion opportunities. Michael Faraday, today a household name, started his scientific career as a technician. He attended and assisted in lectures supporting instrument and apparatus setup, and was responsible for cleaning, maintenance and repair. He also took on the role of valet when his master’s valet was unwell, further emphasizing the role of technicians as servants.

In the 20th century, there was a significant uptick in technical staff. Freda Collier, for example, developed photographs that became a key piece of evidence on the structure of DNA. Her role was recognised in the BBC’s 1987 Horizon documentary.

Catrin Harris – Technicians of the Present

The Midlands Innovation TALENT programme aims to advance both status and opportunity for technical skills, roles and careers in UK higher education and research. As the Research Fellow for TALENT, Catrin researches the technical community, the environments they work in and the challenges they face.

In September 2022, building on the work of Wellcome and ARMA on research culture, MI TALENT published Research Culture: A Technician Lens, which explores research culture from technicians’ perspectives. Some interesting statistics and takeaways from this work include the following.

  • Only 30% of technicians felt included in the research community and only 37% of technicians felt valued as a member of the research community.
  • 63% of technicians and 52% of non-technical staff and students do not think technicians are appropriately credited for their contributions to research.
  • There still exists an “us and them” culture between academic researchers and technical staff. Technical staff reported a number of issues such as negative attitudes, communication issues, bullying and poor treatment, and scapegoating when projects are unsuccessful or hit roadblocks.

Career progression is often highlighted as a challenge for technical staff.  A lack of clear career pathways means that technicians often have to move to management positions, resulting in a loss of technical knowledge and skills.

The full report makes for fascinating reading and highlights how we can improve the quality of our technical staff’s professional lives and career opportunities, and the sectoral shifts that need to happen in order to facilitate this.

Kelly Vere – Technicians of the Future

Kelly has been a technician for several years and is trying to shift the culture around considering technical colleagues and the skills they offer. The aim is to ensure our technical community is respected and valued and can work within a supportive and inclusive research environment. One of the first key pieces of work is a pledge to support the technical profession – the Technician Commitment – which so far has attracted sign-ups from over 115 organisations and institutions.

An understanding of the strategic position of our technical workforce is vital. To that end, the TALENT Board of Commissioners is made up of technical staff, academic staff, VCs and PVCs, directors and CEOs, ensuring broad representation. The TALENT Commission report looks at a vision of the future in which technical careers are respected, admired and aspired to. The key principles include:

  • strategic planning for sustainable technical skills and investing in technical career pipelines;
  • recognising the diversity of technical roles and reporting accurately and transparently on the demographic information of technicians;
  • creating a diverse and inclusive technical community which reflects the richness of society;
  • making technical careers and development visible, reducing the reliance on dropping technical careers to move into management;
  • giving technicians collaborative opportunities to influence decision-making, empowering technical staff to influence the future for themselves;
  • inclusive policy-making and representation, recognising the significance of technical expertise.

Panel discussion

Following this fascinating journey through the past, present and future of technical staff, we welcomed our panel to the stage to take audience questions. In addition to our speakers, we were joined by Jiteen Ahmed (Head of Technical Services, Aston University) and Ian Brewis (Chair, GW4 Technical Infrastructure and Knowledge Working Group).

With a panel covering such a broad range of the technical landscape, there was plenty to discuss and lots of questions from our audience. Watch the video below to hear the full range of discussions, but here are some of my key takeaways.

  • There has been a positive shift towards making technicians more visible and better supported, although there is work still needed in this space. This is a vital part of our wider research culture, ensuring that different communities within higher education have a voice and moving away from a hierarchical structure.
  • There’s plenty we can do to make technical careers more attractive. Pay is naturally at the top of the list, but training, development and support are vital, in addition to more concrete methods of acknowledging the work carried out, such as inclusion in research articles.
  • Developing technical staff networks and staff joining these networks helps with visibility, particularly further afield of your own institution. This is the same for institutions too – some of the greatest changes noted over the past few years have been when institutions have worked together, such as through the Technician Commitment.

What’s next for research culture at Bristol?

After a packed spring and summer of events, the University has received further funding from Research England to be spent on research culture activity, building on awards in 2021 and 2022. This is part of ongoing sectoral efforts to enhance research culture. The latest round of the Research Culture open call is now open for applicants, with a closing date of Monday, 19 September 2023. Read the full guidance on SharePoint and apply online (please note, this link will only work for University of Bristol colleagues). If you have any questions, please contact Gurjeet Kaur, Project Officer at