Funding agencies should make universities commit to supporting the development of early career researchers if they want to secure grants, a vice-chancellor has said.
The UK’s research councils have already signed the Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers, but Julia Buckingham, vice-chancellor of Brunel University London, said that making adherence to its principles a condition of funding could deliver a step change in support for junior academics.
She was speaking to Times Higher Education ahead of the unveiling of proposals for a new edition of the document at the Researcher Development International Conference, hosted by careers organisation Vitae, on 17 September.
“Certainly influence from the funders can be very important [in] facilitating implementation,” said Professor Buckingham, chair of the concordat strategy group. “The worst thing possible would be for this to become just a bit of paper that goes on the shelf.”
The concordat commits signatories to promoting the importance of personal and career development for researchers, and to supporting diversity and equality in recruitment and progression. It was first published in 1992.
“This is a really exciting time for research, with the establishment of UK Research and Innovation and the government’s ambition to increase investment in research,” Professor Buckingham said. “It is an opportunity to build the UK’s research capacity and address the big problems facing society.
“That, of course, means we need a fantastic team of researchers who are going to deliver this.”
Ahead of the unveiling of the revised concordat, Professor Buckingham called for universities and businesses to work together to provide better opportunities for early career researchers and to ensure that talent is not lost in the wake of Brexit.
Improving career advice and tackling the loss of female researchers from the academic workforce would be key priorities, she suggested.
“It’s really important that researchers at the beginning of their careers are getting good, well-rounded advice and that we are opening doors to them,” she said. “These are very talented people, and it worries me that we might be losing that talent.
“The agenda we have to fill the skills gap [in the UK] is very important, and now we are in a mundane situation with Brexit,” she added. “Science and research is an international endeavour, and I think it is really important that we are continually able to attract great people who can come and work in our environment.”
It was of “particular concern” that in certain disciplines of research “we lose an awful lot of women at the time they take career breaks”, she added. “It is really important that we find ways [to] help people back into research, may that be through academia or jobs in the wider industry,” she said.
The concordat, which was last updated in 2008, has been internationally influential. In 2005, the European Commission issued a similar document, the European Charter for Research and the Code of Conduct for the Recruitment of Researchers, based on the original.