Benchmarking review of UK research offices





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Helping understand how university research offices are responding to challenges such as under-investment in research, budgetary pressures, internal changes within their organisations and Covid-19.

Against a backdrop of challenges such as under-investment in research, budgetary pressures and Covid-19, the Association of Research Managers and Administrators (ARMA) commissioned this project 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 were surprised to discover that many research offices do not use key performance indicators to monitor their 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.

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

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