Recognising research cultures that promote excellence – the European HR Excellence in Research Award and QMU success

16 February 2021

A guest blog by Kim Smith, Head of Research and KE Development Unit, Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh, and Professor Brendan McCormack, Head of the Divisions of Nursing, Occupational Therapy & Arts Therapies; Associate Director Centre for Person-centred Practice Research, Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh, and Council of Deans of Health Executive Member for Research.

The need for universities to ensure that they are generating cultures of excellence for research has become more explicit in research strategy and policy. The days of researchers needing to create their own ‘micro-culture’ to enable their research productivity are thankfully coming to an end. In addition, the systematic development of the professional careers of researchers is now a requirement of universities, helped in part by the REF assessment processes and the financial rewards that accompany the outcomes of such assessments. One such assessment and reward process is the ‘European Union HR Excellence in Research Award’. The European Commission launched the European Charter for Researchers and Code of Conduct for the Recruitment of Researchers in 2005, focusing on principles for good working conditions for researchers. The process for implementing the principles is meant to be ‘light touch’ so that the institutional autonomy of HEIs is respected. It is a voluntary process and the UK Vitae has agreed with the European Commission that commitment to implementation of the UK Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers alongside meeting the requirements for research degrees set out in the UK QAA Quality Code is considered as equivalent to implementing the principles of the European Charter and Code.

In December 2020, following a rigorous process of external peer review, the European Commission 2020 awarded Queen Margaret University Edinburgh (QMU) with the 10 Year European HR Excellence in Research Award in recognition of our commitment to the new  2019 Concordat for Researcher Development. We are in the first cohort of only five UK HEIs to secure and retain this award and the first post-92 institution to do so. Our 2020-22 Concordat for Researcher Development Action Plan underpins our commitment to the Concordat’s three guiding principles, ensuring equitable development of researchers at all career stages and across all disciplines. Central to this activity is an ethos of co-creation and importantly shared-ownership between the institution and its research community.

  • Environment and culture – Excellent research requires a supportive, inclusive and healthy research culture
  • Employment – Researchers are recruited, employed and managed under conditions that recognise and value their contributions
  • Professional and career development Professional and career development are integral to enabling researchers to develop their full potential

The Concordat sets out the conditions that are required to create excellence in our research culture and receiving the 10 Year HR Excellence Award, the gold standard for researcher development, will encourage shared responsibility across the university for driving the necessary change. The Award is also a quantitative indicator in the REF 2021 environment statement, based on the work of the Forum for Responsible Research Metrics (FFRRM), and incorporating advice from the REF main and sub-panels.

To secure baseline data on researcher experience and inform success measures in our Concordat Action Plan, QMU participated in the 2020 pilot UK Culture, Employment and Development in Academic Research Survey 2020 (CEDARS). CEDARS has been a useful measure of research culture and the success of our research environment strategy and policy interventions. It will become a national UK benchmarking survey from 2021 onwards, replacing the Careers in Research Online Survey (CROS) and Principal Investigators and Research Leaders Survey (PIRLS). CEDARS feedback was used to further enhance our Concordat for Researcher Development Action Plan 2020-22.

The Concordat is aligned to new strategic initiatives as they arise, and responsive to the changing nature of research, legislation and the wider environment. It offers a new impetus for QMU to drive the agenda forward through systematic change, implementing best practice and ensuring that the highest standards are consistently applied throughout the research community in the university. QMU clearly sets out in its refreshed strategy its intention of being a ‘people-centred university’ and in this context we are committed to the continuous development of systems and processes whereby researchers work in healthy and supportive environments. Our commitment to the Concordat for Researcher Development and a clear action plan as a tool, necessitates the development of multi-skilled, multi-talented researchers who can traverse the interface of academia and other sectors.

Faced with the reality of Brexit, endorsement by the European Commission of QMU’s commitment to researcher development, international research and researcher mobility could not have come at a more important time for us and we are excited about the existence of this strong platform upon which to build.

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