Don’t exclude technicians from decision-making, universities say

Technicians should be represented on university decision-making bodies to ensure the voices of the UK’s more than 30,000 technicians are properly heard, a major review has recommended.

Calling for the inclusion of technical staff on committees at department, faculty and institution levels is one of many recommendations made in a new report by the Talent Commission, a cross-sectoral body comprising vice-chancellors, Senior Scientists and Technicians set up in July 2020 to address a perceived lack of understanding of the needs of technical staff in UK universities and research.

Based on a survey of nearly 1,800 technical staff, the study found that these staff – sometimes called the “unsung heroes” of academia or the “Cinderella staff” – were “not still understood and valued, especially among university senior managers, which is reflected in institutional processes and structures”.

“They feel excluded at different levels of decision-making and do not always have the same opportunities as other groups of staff,” he concludes, saying that these people have been described as “invisible” despite the crucial role they play. play in research.

Universities and research labs should also create opportunities for technical staff to be considered co-investigators or co-supervisors of grants or projects, says the report, released Feb. 1, which says technicians should be listed , if applicable, as co-authors. on newspapers.

“Funders and employers of technical personnel in higher education and research should recognize the blurring of boundaries between technical and academic roles,” the report says, adding that they should “provide opportunities and mechanisms to move from one career path to another and from one sector to another”.

More generally, universities and funders should also check whether technicians are properly recognized and rewarded for their contributions and ensure that there are appropriate career paths to allow promotion to higher positions, the report adds. .

It also proposes a “new, simple classification adapted to technical roles in higher education…distinct from academic roles”. [or] skills”, while universities should appoint a director of technical skills to drive strategic change on this issue in all institutions.

The report also offers a series of proposals for government, research funders, professional bodies and learned societies, and the technical community.

Sir John Holman, chairman of the Talent Commission, said the review set out “a clear vision” to strengthen UK research by providing “the right technical capability and capacity in academia, research, education and the ‘innovation”.

“Our research also identified that a proportion of technicians involved in teaching and learning activities do so with little recognition or support, yet many learning environments are highly dependent on technician support,” added Sir John, former President of the Royal Society of Chemistry.

David Sweeney, executive chairman of Research England, which has invested more than £3million in the Talent project to improve technical skills in academia, said he welcomed the report’s findings, which “align strongly on UKRI’s vision of an exceptional research and innovation system in the UK that gives everyone the opportunity to contribute and benefit, enriching lives locally, nationally and internationally”.

Kelly Vere, Talent Project Manager and Director of Technical Skills and Strategy at the University of Nottingham, said the recommendations “offer solutions to strengthen the technical community, ensuring it is diverse, inclusive, sustainable and fit for purpose, now and in the future”. ”.

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Helen D. Jessen