Open University maps new routes to career progression

Teaching, research and knowledge exchange will all be weighed in decisions on academic promotions. Plus the latest higher education appointments

April 2, 2015

Source: Alamy

Going up: the OU’s scheme has a strong focus on equal opportunities

The Open University has released details of what it calls a progressive new promotion scheme, offering academics several distinct routes to becoming a senior professor.

Under the new system, which aims to recognise all aspects of scholarly work, academics will be able to progress up four different career strands: teaching, research, combined research and teaching, and knowledge exchange.

But in addition to outlining the clear benchmarks that academics will be expected to achieve in order to climb the different ladders, The Open University is aiming to ensure that the new procedure has a strong focus on equal opportunities.

“When researching promotion schemes, I found that although university promotion schemes contained lots of warm words about equality of opportunity, there was nothing really tangible to back it up, or to show how it would work,” said Sally Dibb, professor of marketing and chairwoman of the Working Group of The Open University Academic Staff Promotions Committee, which devised the new approach.

“There were hardly any examples of how to do it, which is quite shocking,” she added.

Under the OU scheme, academic members of staff applying for a promotion will be able to complete an “individual circumstances form”, in which they will be able to specify reasons why they may have fallen short of some promotion criteria.

This might be a period of time spent on maternity or paternity leave, or the fact that a member of staff has demanding caring responsibilities at home.

Professor Dibb said that the system was based on the approach taken by the Higher Education Funding Council for England in the research excellence framework, which allowed individual researchers to submit fewer than the expected four outputs to the exercise if they had a good reason.

“The OU is well placed to provide a lead to the sector in handling equality in promotion,” Professor Dibb said. The university’s promotions committee has also appointed two members with specific expertise in equal opportunities to help handle cases in which individual circumstances are a factor.

The university is also thought to be one of the first in the UK to offer a dedicated knowledge exchange career path, meaning that academics can become senior professors by demonstrating their effectiveness in this area.

Professor Dibb dismissed the suggestion that this path would be seen as a less academically rigorous option.

“The knowledge exchange route reflects the trend in the sector to demonstrate impact, and we wanted to support people on that career path,” she said, adding that scholars on this path would still be expected to bring in income.

All the career paths come with clear objectives that scholars must achieve if they are to be considered eligible for promotion.

A senior lecturer on the “research” track would be expected to have published at least four “internationally excellent” papers in the past six years, to have effectively supervised a research degree student, and to have shown evidence of public engagement, among other benchmarks.

In the sector as a whole, “promotion schemes tend to be quite vague”, Professor Dibb said, adding that the OU’s new approach sought to give staff “more clarity” about what was expected of them.


Martin D. Stringer has been appointed pro vice-chancellor at Swansea University. Professor Stringer joins Swansea from the University of Birmingham, where he is currently deputy pro vice-chancellor for staffing and planning. He will act as the senior management team’s lead for arts, humanities and social sciences, and takes up the position next month.

The University of Glasgow has announced the appointment of Sebastian Kirchner as a new Marie Curie fellow at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Molecular Parasitology. He will join Glasgow this summer.

The Royal Society of Edinburgh has announced 57 new fellows for 2015. Recipients of fellowships include Pamela Gillies, principal and vice-chancellor of Glasgow Caledonian University; Petra Wend, principal and vice-chancellor of Queen Margaret University; Don Paterson, professor of poetry at the University of St Andrews; and Seona Reid, chair of the National Theatre of Scotland and former director of the Glasgow School of Art.

Wolfgang Ernst, full professor of Roman and civil law at the University of Zurich, has been appointed to the Regius professorship of civil law at the University of Oxford, with effect from 1 October. Professor Ernst has also been made a fellow of All Souls College, Oxford.

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