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.



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