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 change-team@bristol.ac.uk 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 tas-support@bristol.ac.uk 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 researchculture-projects@bristol.ac.uk.

Research-rich teaching at the University of Bristol

By Emilie Poletto-Lawson and Dr Hannah Grist

One of the three pillars underpinning the University of Bristol’s Vision and Strategy (2030) holds that at Bristol, “our education is shaped by the fact that we are a world-class research-intensive university. The link between research and teaching informs our taught courses, and is integral to research supervision.” Our Vision imagines a future where we attract and inspire students “from across the globe, with a distinctive education offering, innovative teaching and research-rich curriculum that enriches their university experience, careers and lives.” Our staff development offer for colleagues who teach and support learning at the University forms the “Cultivating Research-rich Education and Teaching Excellence (CREATE)” programme, further highlighting the connection between research and education at Bristol.

But what does it mean to cultivate a research-rich curriculum? What are some of the benefits and challenges, and how have colleagues at Bristol engaged with research-rich approaches? 

Definitions and benefits of research-rich teaching

The traditional view of research and teaching in higher education – as schematised by Brew in 2003 – demonstrates a clear separation between the two. This could perhaps be seen as the origin of the three learning, teaching and research pathways in our institution.

Two years later, Healey redefined the relationship between teaching and research in his seminal 2005 work, identifying four approaches to the research-teaching nexus. The University of Bristol has since aligned, moving from advocating a research-led approach (teaching the latest advancements in research) to being research-rich, and therefore encompassing all four quadrants.

Healey considers the various roles students and teachers can occupy. On one hand, the nexus aligns with a traditional approach focused on the role of the teacher. Students are less active and more of an audience – they can still engage with research content, but the emphasis is more on transmission of knowledge (research-led) or teaching processes of knowledge construction (research-oriented). On the other hand, the nexus is student-focused, and involves them either in engaging actively with research content (research-tutored approach) or carrying out their own research (research-based).

Benefits for students: A research-rich approach moves away from the traditional teacher-focused approach, which sees students as recipients of knowledge, to a student-centred approach that develops students’ true potential as researchers in training and as partners. As demonstrated by Healey and Roberts in 2004 and Healey in 2005, the students’ learning experience is greatly enriched and enhanced through not only access to cutting-edge research but also active and innovative teaching methods such as inquiry-based learning. This contributes to increased intrinsic motivation and the development of key skills (critical thinking, research skills) that also enhance students’ employability as shown by Griffiths in 2004. The students, in this approach, become an integral part of the university community of practice and can contribute to society throughout their studies.

Benefits for staff: These approaches are an opportunity to bring together two key aspects of colleagues’ professional lives – teaching and research – which might in turn lessen competing demands on time. Colleagues might share the research they are still developing with their students (whether through presenting the information or making students part of the exploration), with students acting as a sounding board. This can also provide an opportunity for staff to express their research to a general audience, receiving early feedback and an intake of fresh ideas. Looking at the experience of colleagues within the institution, other benefits mentioned are an opportunity to improve one’s teaching and job satisfaction, as cited by participants on the CREATE programmes. Finally, it is likely that among the students mentored through this research-rich experience is a future colleague and collaborator, who will have been inspired and empowered to pursue research and teaching.

Challenges of research-rich teaching

Time: Whilst colleagues might already include activities which sit across the different quadrants of Healey’s research-teaching nexus, in an environment in which demands on time and resource are ever-increasing and competing, it can be challenging to find the time and capacity needed to embed research-rich approaches in our teaching. In the first instance, it takes time and space to develop our own research interests and methodologies, and then to engage in (primary or secondary) research that might later be drawn upon in teaching. Subsequently, energy and expertise are required to review and develop our curricula and assessments to embed newly developed research-rich approaches. The resulting competition for time and resources often concludes with colleagues adopting a pragmatic response, in which curriculum enhancements are small and incremental, putting off more substantial development for a later date.

Conflict: The idea of competition between research and teaching extends into wider questions about the nature and purpose of universities, and the value placed upon our core activities. As Bage argued in 2018, “Universities typically value academics’ research over teaching, as indicators through which to judge career advancement and institutional prestige” (p.151). Whilst teaching and research are linked in our Vision and Strategy, how far might the organisation of academic staff at Bristol across three pathways, which separates and delineates research and/or teaching responsibilities, reinforce the distinctive nature of these activities?

Assessment: Assessment on programmes that adopt research-rich approaches might also be challenging (yet beneficial!), as these approaches often aim to develop multiple skillsets in our students including problem-solving skills, research skills, and subject specific knowledge. This can make it difficult (but not impossible) to design assessments that capture the full range of deep learning that results from research-rich approaches. To capture this range of learning, assessment of research-rich learning might involve portfolios, presentations, research projects and reports, or peer review, which can be more time-consuming for staff new to these approaches to mark and provide feedback on. This challenge might equally be seen as a benefit, however, as qualitative assessment is already a feature of many of our programmes, and we know that both staff and students gain much from assessments that promote deeper learning and engagement.

Research-rich teaching at the University of Bristol

Disciplinary approaches: Research-rich teaching at Bristol takes many forms. Beyond the institution’s historical research-led approach, we can also find many examples of innovative approaches covering Healey’s quadrants. One fantastic case study can be found in the Faculty of Health Sciences, bringing together first-year undergraduate dental and medical students to be part of a conference designed to assess their knowledge in only their 10th week at the University. This project demonstrates how students can experience being a researcher very early on. Students develop self-management, transferable skills and creativity through group work and inspiring tasks: an oral PechaKucha, a poster and a creative piece. If you are interested in reading more examples (or sharing your own), please visit the BILT blog page dedicated to research-rich teaching.

Research-rich Learning Communities: Research is not limited to being discipline-specific, and the University counts a great number of Scholarship of Learning and Teaching communities which bring together passionate colleagues, often Pathway 3, but not exclusively. The Engineering Education Research Group is an excellent example of colleagues from various pathways coming together to “lead and define a direction for engineering education and to encourage evidence-based pedagogical innovation both inside and outside the University of Bristol.”  You can find their key research themes, publications and blog on their webpage linked to above.

Staff and students as partners: The Bristol Institute for Learning and Teaching (BILT) also champions research-rich teaching through investing in staff and students as partners. Colleagues can work on an existing BILT project or benefit from funding to work on their own project as it aligns with at least one BILT theme. The Student Research Journal and the Student Research Festival are student-led through the BILT student fellows who can count on the support and expertise of BILT colleagues. The former is an opportunity for students to get their outstanding work published in an online, peer-reviewed journal. The latter promotes and recognises the excellent research conducted by both undergraduate and postgraduate students, grouped around key themes.

Conclusion

Research-rich approaches to learning and teaching at Bristol thus have proven benefits for both our students and staff which can enrich the wider University and positively impact the world around us. But bringing together research and teaching remains challenging, and there is still a way to go to meet the aims set out in our University Vision. Whilst structural limitations might still impede our bringing together of research and teaching in our practice in the short term, as highlighted by Hordósy & McLean in 2022, in the longer term we must strive to develop a more equitable, inclusive, flexible and collaborative environment in which research and teaching are mutually encouraged and nurtured.

The End-to-End Research Lifecycle Project: What is it, why is it important, and what’s coming next?

Alison Evans
Alison Evans, Director of Post Award

After more than 20 years working in research management, and having gained first-hand experience in nearly all of the research support functions – from pre-award, bid development, contracting and project management, through to commercialisation, impact and the REF (as well as having completed a PhD!) – I consider myself to have a pretty good understanding of the research process.

So, when I joined Bristol as Director of Post Award in the Division of Research Enterprise and Innovation (DREI) in November 2019 it wasn’t a huge surprise to be delegated responsibility from Jon Hunt, Executive Director of DREI, for delivering the End-to-End Research Lifecycle Project – affectionately known as E2E. Three years in, and having now launched our researcher’s route map, it is timely to reflect on what we’ve done so far, and what’s next…

What is E2E?

The E2E initiative was launched in April 2019 as part of the then Professional Service Fit for the Future programme. In the first phase, KPMG led a review of our existing processes for supporting research applications and awards. Whilst their report highlighted some good practices to be preserved, including the dedication, knowledge and skills of many staff, it also identified a number of weaknesses that were leading to delays, additional effort, high risk exposure in some circumstances and sub-optimal decisions.

In response, we first concentrated our efforts on some major changes, including implementation of Worktribe, creation of the Research Finance Centre of Excellence, and development of a single contracts administrative hub. I think it’s fair to say that these all went some way to improving service delivery, as well as bridging the critical interface between DREI and Finance.

However, we also knew that concerns still remained around a lack of common and transparent processes, decision-making gateways, and defined institutional risk parameters (with appropriate escalation points and risk owners). So, in August 2020, the second phase of E2E got underway, focusing on the design and delivery of three key tools:

  • A high-level, visual E2E route map setting out the researcher journey, from application and award through to project delivery and lifecycle closure, that incorporates decision points (eg whether or not to go ahead with a bid), and acts as a single platform from which to access information, guidance and advice at all stages of the journey.
  • Clearly defined roles, responsibilities and accountabilities of everyone involved in the E2E process, including academics, Heads of Schools, Deans and various professional services.
  • A set of defined features or attributes (eg funder type, bid value, space requirements) that enable DREI and finance to “classify” a proposal based on its complexity as being low, medium or high (now called Levels 1, 2 or 3) and allocate resources accordingly.

This all took a huge effort, with staff across DREI and Finance working together to scope, consult on, and trial the three tools extensively with numerous academic and Professional Services colleagues. It truly was a collective effort, and the levels of engagement from everyone are testament to the interest in the project.

Katie Glenton-Wall
Katie Glenton-Wall, Project Officer

The Researcher Route Map was finally launched two years on, in August 2022. This is still very much a work in progress, and we are keen to continue to get feedback and make improvements where we can – so please do get in touch with our project manager, Katie Glenton-Wall.

Why is E2E important?

The main rationale behind the E2E programme was that optimising resources across the research lifecycle (from bidding through to project delivery) will increase levels of success in a changing and challenging funding environment. This is clearly something that researchers and Professional Service Staff are all trying to achieve, and we hope the route map and associated tools with help to do this in the following ways:

  • Bringing together information, support and guidance in to one accessible platform.
  • Emphasising and encouraging consideration of project requirements and engagement with relevant stakeholders as early as possible to avoid delays, reworking and potential rejection.
  • Reducing bureaucracy between DREI and Finance where we can (e.g. in our contracting processes), and allowing us to reallocate resource to where it is most needed, in the most timely way.
  • Providing clear, consistent and transparent decision-making, with roles and responsibilities understood.

What’s next for E2E?

Since launching phase 2 it’s become clear that this is just part of a longer E2E journey of continuous improvement. We’ve now started to focus on particular pain points that have been identified, one of which is around our process for managing the more complex (L3) bids as described earlier, and we have been working with the consultancy MoreBrains to look at this.

We are also looking more closely at support for post award activities – an area of need that was highlighted both in our stakeholder consultations and in the recent review of research bureaucracy (UoB staff access only). We have been lucky to secure some funding from DREI and the Research England Enhancing Research Culture allocation to do this.

Our third, and possibly most exciting, next step is to evolve the package of tools into a single research office portal – giving easy access to everything a researcher might need to know from a user-friendly one-stop-shop. We hope to be telling you more about this shortly – so watch this space!