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Against a backdrop of UK university research offices facing a number of challenges such as under-investment in research, budgetary pressures, internal changes within their organisations and Covid-19, a research project was commissioned by the Association of Research Managers and Administrators (ARMA).
ARMA wanted to find out more about research office structures and resourcing levels, as well as common trends and issues. With support from the ARMA board and a project steering group, we designed a benchmarking survey and circulated it to research directors across the UK higher education sector. The survey questions covered a range of topics from research office structures, remits, and resourcing levels to expected trends and challenges within professional service functions. We obtained 54 responses, representing the views of around one-third of the UK’s HEIs. We later ran an additional mini-survey, to gain a deeper understanding of the impact of Covid-19 on research offices across the UK.
Almost 80% of survey respondents reported experiences of restructuring in recent years, with one in two anticipating further structural changes. The difficulty of balancing central and faculty or department-based support was evident. We identified 19 common functions for research offices – with support for the Research Excellence Framework, research policy and governance being core functions for almost all research offices. We found a surprising lack of key performance indicators being used by research offices to monitor quality of service.
The responses we gathered to our additional Covid-19 survey saw budgetary pressures and financial sustainability being the top challenges facing research offices. The wider issue of fundamental under-investment in research at a government level was highlighted as one of the key drivers for this. Regulatory burden and political instability have created additional resourcing needs.
Clearly, the UK higher education sector faces significant challenges, and Covid-19 is not the only culprit. While the times ahead are uncertain, we hope that the findings of this exercise will be a valuable resource for research managers across the country. With this comprehensive evidence base, and ARMA’s continued support for professional and community development, research managers will be better equipped to tackle whatever the future has in store.
In a nutshell, Research Consulting are people who listen; who ensure they understand; who know what’s possible and what’s not possible; but who never settle for vanilla; who breathe integrity, honesty and do their very best to deliver the very best; who adopt the client’s mantle and make the client shine; who collect data, the right amount, and take pains to interpret it correctly; who offer much more than just value; and who are people rather than a brandHamish MacAndrew, Chief Operating Officer, ARMA