A national training centre set up to tackle an ongoing shortage of specialist technicians in UK higher education has been launched at the University of Sheffield.
A total of £1.1 million is to be invested in the National Technician Development Centre for Higher Education, which aims to provide institutions with access to information, expertise and tools to enable them to safeguard the future of technical staff and services.
The funding is comprised of donations from the University of Sheffield and other partners of about £580,000, as well as £526,000 from the Higher Education Funding Council for England’s Catalyst Fund.
Welcoming the opening of the centre, Sir Keith Burnett, Sheffield vice-chancellor and president of the Science Council, said he was “delighted” that the need for greater support for technicians “has been officially recognised”.
“Professional technicians play a vital role in research and education, not only in industry but in the world-leading universities which drive innovation in fields ranging from science and medicine to engineering,” he said. “Finding a way to nurture and develop this crucial capacity and to support individual professional development matters for individual technicians and the wider community of universities.”
A commitment launched by the Science Council in May last year to ensure greater visibility, recognition, career development and sustainability for technician jobs has signatories from nearly half of universities in the UK.
There are continuing concerns over a severe shortage in the sector, however, with research led by the Gatsby Charitable Foundation suggesting that about 700,000 more technicians are needed by the year 2020.
Describing the role of the new centre upon its first announcement, Terry Croft, chairman of the Institute of Science and Technology, and director of the National Technician Development Centre, said that it would initially act as a “one-stop shop” for universities looking to train up their own technicians.
The centre will continue to work with partners in higher education and related institutions to eventually provide a national framework for standardised job titles, grading and career pathways across the technical workforce, signposting best practice in areas of technical training and development.
“This will help universities attract and retain the best talent and develop a workforce that is fit for the research challenges ahead,” said Mr Croft. “We look forward to working with all [higher education institutions] across the sector to deliver a sustainable future for technical staff and services, which will sustain our internationally recognised teaching and research capabilities well into the 21st century.”