Challenges of creating research support services
- Since the University of Oxford does not permit a grant-holder to advertise for staff before receipt of the grant award letter, and because it takes on average 3 months to appoint a new member of staff, we lose a significant portion of the overall project duration to the recruitment lead time.
- There is no reliable career development path for developers and researchers working on JISC projects, which deters many good candidates from even applying for such positions. It is extraordinarily hard to find anyone already skilled and competent who is prepared accept a one-year contract.
- Appointed staff have no long-term security, making it more likely that they will leave for more permanent positions before the project ends. An academic colleague of mine recently said: “I can no longer live on temporary contracts, which used to be 5 years and are now only 5 months; what a world”.
- The uncertainties of the grant funding lottery and the absence of reliable bridging funds from the University cause further staff losses between projects. I recently lost from my group a valued researcher and developer with significant international recognition because he needed greater continuity of income to sustain a young family.
- Relevant technical skills and knowledge of the academic environment cannot reliably be maintained across projects. Many new projects are therefore forced to start from scratch, and coherence of development across multiple projects is difficult to maintain, particularly where specialist technical skills are needed. This fragmentation of the development process means that many JISC-funded projects, after showing initial success, are abandoned, with resulting waste of research investment.
- Greater flexibility in the start and end dates of projects, to enable time for staff recruitment where required, and to schedule participation of in-post staff.
- For projects that have been granted time extensions, flexibility in the timing of expenditure and in the final budget accounting of JISC money that has already been remitted to the project institution.
- That consideration be given, even in these hard times, to the funding of a limited number of centres of development excellence for three or more years, thereby sustaining research teams with proven track records, as long practised by the Research Councils (with their admittedly deeper pockets).
Time to impact
= = =
This document is published under the Creative Commons Attribution License 2.5, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided that the original author and source are credited.
Originally published on 15 Feb 2010 by David Shotton