Enhancing practice in research contracts

By Lucia Loffreda 19/10/2020.

At Research Consulting, we’ve conducted two extensive reviews assessing practices, trends and challenges surrounding university research contracts management. In 2013, we completed a study comparing research contracts functions in a group of research-intensive UK universities, and in 2018 we extended the exercise overseas, reporting on a major study involving 30 UK and Australian universities who had a wide range of research incomes.

We’ve decided to add our work in research contracts management to our growing suite of Kudos pages. This work sits alongside other work looking at practices in university research management, notably the national survey of Research Offices for ARMA (UK) in 2020. Our Kudos pages therefore provide research managers and administrators with a useful set of comparative reports and analysis.

What have we done?

The research contracts reviews that we’ve conducted over the years include individual university-level analyses as well as international benchmarking exercises. In each case, our work has allowed us to carry out in-depth assessments of research contracts functions in institutions across the UK and beyond.

Some of our most comprehensive studies on the topic are listed below. You can find all the public outputs from these projects on our new Kudos page:

  • 2013 Benchmarking Research Contracts report: a study comparing the research contracts functions of institutions in the Brunswick Group of UK Research-Intensive Universities.
  • 2018 Research Contracts Benchmarking report: an international benchmarking study of 19 UK and 11 Australian universities.
  • 2019 Artificial Intelligence (AI) for research contracts management webinar: a webinar discussing the potential for artificial intelligence (AI) to change and improve the behaviour, culture and processes of research contracts management.
  • 2020 ARMA Research Office Survey – as part of this wider study we examined research contracts teams as one of the core functions in a research office.

Why’s this important?

Research contract management is a critical, often criticised, high volume process function in supporting universities’ research activity and incomes. It supports work with businesses, the public sector and collaboration with other universities. It is also increasingly complex, with a greater range of external organisations, international partnerships, types of agreement and due diligence expectations to address.

Our recent studies for ARMA highlighted the critical role of research contracts teams, as research contracts was reported as one of the largest functional areas across instructional research offices (in terms of FTEs).

Figure 1. Distribution of research office staff by functional areas (Research Consulting, 2020)

In addition to a large number of responsibilities, research contracts staff are facing new challenges – the increasing volume and complexity of research contracts, pressure from funders, external partners and businesses to demonstrate impact from university relationships, and (inevitably) dealing with the ramifications of COVID on existing projects are just a few of these.

Our work however highlights the resilience of research office staff, and the highly skilled research contracts teams operating within them. We hope that our resources will provide a comprehensive evidence-base for research contracts staff to continue their vital work in uncertain times.