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Research managers ‘deserve parity of esteem with academics’

Image: ARMA

Arma 2021: conference celebrates vital role of managers in UK research culture

Research managers are not afforded parity of esteem with academics in universities, despite the fact that they are at the sharp end of research culture within institutions, the 2021 conference of the Association of Research Managers and Administrators has heard.

Welcoming delegates to the annual event, Jennifer Stergiou, chair of Arma UK, said that research managers were critical to the evaluation of research as well as research behaviours, values, diversity and inclusion—but that their work was not always acknowledged as much as it could be.

Stergiou, who is also director of research and innovation services at Northumbria University, said research managers were working “with large numbers of researchers across an organisation…at the heart of the system”. She said they were often the first to see the “systemic nature of cultural issues” within institutions and the impact of these on individuals and teams.

This included “managing the research ethics process, providing a sympathetic ear or advice on funding routes for researchers with fantastic projects who never seem to get funded, or giving advice to colleagues whose third fixed-term contract in a row is approaching an end”, she said.

“We advise on publication plans, open research, we know the ins and outs of research evaluation—let’s face it, better than anybody else—and see the impact that these things have on research culture.”

Institutionalised disparity

Despite this, Stergiou said research managers were not always recognised with “parity of esteem, respect and inclusion” within universities. She cited the 2020 Arma research culture survey, which found “institutionalised disparity” in terms of parity of esteem and respect between academic and professional support. Some 44 per cent of respondents to the survey said they had indirectly experienced bullying, harassment or discrimination.

“When asked for words to describe their current research culture, yes, there were positives: we had ‘collaborative’ and…‘supportive’ featuring in there—but also ‘pressured’, ‘reactive’, ‘individualistic’, ‘inconsistent’ and more.”

This was why Arma chose to put “equity, diversity and inclusion” at the heart of its strategy for 2021 to 2024, Stergiou added.

Read a related op-ed piece written by Stergiou here.

Research Professional News is the official media partner for Arma 2021.