The R&D people and culture strategy

If the government is serious about expanding research and development, more grant funding is just one part of the solution.

David Kernohan is Deputy Editor of Wonkhe

Arguably the most important part is to ensure that there are people available to do that research – meaning more training, more decent (fairly-paid, secure) jobs for researchers, and a research culture that allows us to make the best of talent and ideas no matter where they come from.

Today’s Research and Development People and Culture Strategy from the Department for Business, Energy, and the Industrial Strategy is the top level of addressing this need. What we emphatically do not get is concrete proposals or commitments – this is very much a sketch in the space that needs to be filled.

What’s in the outline?

There’s talk of a “new deal” for postgraduate research (PGR) students, which will start with a UKRI consultation. Covering both practical and financial support, the aim is to address the issues that contribute to early career precarity, prepare for careers, and do better on diversity. To get people up to the PGR level there’s talk of a refresh of UKRI’s core STEM inspiration work – I really hope that this reaches beyond STEM in that there is valuable research to be done in every subject area. And to encourage international researchers to consider the UK there is work planned with the Office for Talent.

Something called the Résumé for Researchers is postulated as one solution to issues faced moving between academia and industry – this “narrative CV” developed by UKRI and the Royal Society aims to support the recognition of a wider variety of achievements and contributions. There will be support for cross-sector training programmes and interdisciplinary approaches, with a pilot apparently in the pipeline.

Culture, funding, and review

There is a UKRI commitment to review its approach to peer review, with a focus on minimising bureaucracy, but many will be more excited to see government return to the vexed issue of full economic costs. On the latter we don’t get any detail other than that UKRI will advise government on the balance of funding through dual support, and that work will dovetail with other sustainability considerations. Would you rather have FECs on project funding or the current (or even the future) QR allocation? For more on these aspects, Adam Tickell’s review of Bureaucracy in R&D is the one to wait for.

There’s more stuff on leadership skills – recognition that not every successful researcher is a great project or staff leader and that training may be needed. But a good chunk of the document focuses on research culture – inclusivity, diversity and working cultures including bullying and harassment. I liked the commitment to “tackle the perception that research is the concern only of professional researchers” – wider engagement with the general public feels like it builds on the best of current practice.

The measures in play involve that favourite of government interventions – a “good practice” exchange, although drawing in the Research on Research Institute feels like a good plan. The section on bullying and harassment starts with the lack of representative data, but does not then move to mechanisms to improve reporting and address the darkness within which such abuse becomes normalised – a missed opportunity, though developing agreed definitions may be a start, and a promised cross-sector R&D workforce survey may be a place to hang it.

A Ministerial coordination group is in the offing to “champion” this vision – do get involved if you think this sounds like you.


One response to “The R&D people and culture strategy

  1. Thank you for publicising this David. It’s an extremely important topic and early career stage researchers do tend to be at the sharp end of this. Some universities are starting important initiatives and Wellcome and ARMA also have useful reports that are very well worth a read.

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