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Interventionism is suddenly all the rage with the Westminster Conservative government, and higher education is feeling the impact as new policies and legislation are brought to bear on the sector, writes Johnny Rich, Chief Executive of Push and of the Engineering Professors’ Council.
Female researchers are being rewarded less than their male peers and passed over for promotion, a new survey has revealed.
Key findings from the 2015 Careers in Research Online Survey (CROS) carried out by Vitae, the careers membership organisation, show a significant minority of women researchers perceived bias in the way they were treated.
A fifth of female researchers disagreed that there was fair treatment irrespective of gender, up from 18 per cent in 2013.
The perception of unfair treatment increased over time. Nearly a third (30 per cent) of respondents who had been research staff for more than 10 years disagreed that career progression was fair, compared to just 14 per cent who had been in the job for less than two years.
A total of 72 UK higher education institutions participated in CROS 2015, with 8,964 research staff responding.
It showed a slight decrease in the proportion of research staff employed on fixed-term contracts, but these still formed the majority (74%). The figure was considerably higher for research staff in their first position in the institution (over 90%). There was evidence to suggest a slight decrease in the use of very short contracts since 2013.
A higher percentage of female research staff were on fixed term contracts compared to males, which was not explained by disciplinary differences, age, length of experience or mode of employment.
Vitae recommended that universities undertake detailed scrutiny of their data to identify any perceptions of discrimination and unjustified inequalities between different types of research staff and with other staff.
In general, most research staff felt positive about their work/life balance, integration and recognition by their institution for their research activity.
Staff who had been on multiple short-term contracts over a long period at the same institution tended to feel less valued and have less positive feelings about their employer, job and career.
The use of staff appraisals had increased slightly, with just over two thirds reporting they had received them. Just over 60 per cent said they found them useful.
A high proportion of research staff – two thirds - continue to aspire to a career in higher education. However, the report noted that this proportion was “probably higher” than would be possible in the UK.
“Overall, this seems to suggest that many research staff do not have realistic expectations of their long term career prospects and have little knowledge of or value careers in other employment sectors,” it said.
Vitae also published its Principal Investigators and Research Leaders Survey (PIRLS), covering 55 institutions and 4316 research leaders. It found that, overall, leadership and management activities were viewed as less important than research leaders’ core personal research activity and it was in this area that they felt they gained most recognition from the institution.
Senior researchers felt lower levels of confidence when it came to the performance management of research staff, managing budgets and finances, and providing careers advice to research staff. In these areas, only around a quarter of research leaders were fully confident.
Training or continuing professional development activity was marginally higher than in 2013, although a third of respondents had undertaken one day or less in the past year and less than half more than two days.
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