Research Administration as a Profession: a longitudinal survey

In June 2018, the Council of the International Network of Research Management Societies (INORMS) formally endorsed the Research Administration as a Profession (RAAAP) survey as an INORMS initiative.

RAAAP is an International Survey which seeks to find out the key skills, attitudes and behaviors of successful research management and administration (RMA) leaders.  Over 2,600 individuals from 64 countries responded to the first RAAAP survey, held in 2016.  The survey responses have been analysed and presented at annual RM conferences in 2016 and 2017, as well as at the 2016 and 2018 INORMS congress.

Key findings from the 2016 survey include

•  When asked what skills are most valued technical skills like costing and pricing, or soft skills like communication? Soft skills were rated as much more important.  They were rated very or extremely important by over 90% of Leaders, 80% of Managers and 50% of Operational staff; compared to hard skills which were rated very or extremely important by fewer than 30% of Leaders, 10%  of Managers and 5% of Operational staff.

•  The RMA profession is predominantly female. Whilst the balance varies by geographic region, overall 77.0% of respondents identified as being female.  However, this fell to 71.5% for those RMAs in leadership positions as opposed to managerial (78.8%) and operational (78.5%).

•  Regarding the factors in the choice to become a research administrator, overall, few RMAs (less than 25%) indicated relevance or high relevance to the statement ‘It was a profession I was interested in ‘while studying’. Over 75% indicated ‘neither relevant nor irrelevant’, ‘low relevance’ or ‘no relevance’ to the same statement.

The 2016 survey and the analysis of its responses was run as a funded project with 2 named investigators (the project was supported by a wider international advisory group). The ACU sat on the Advisory group for the initial RAAAP project (2016-2018) and also contributed to the research analysis of the survey data.

Why run a longitudinal survey?

When analysing the 2016 RAAAP survey data, the advisory group felt that;

  • First, although the data provided an informative snapshot of the RMA profession in 2016, there were some areas that could have benefited from a longitudinal perspective.  For example analysis of the open text responses indicate opportunities and ease of movement between RMA roles as well as between non-RMA roles and RMA roles. It would be interesting to identify the extent to which this is a function of the profile of 2016 survey respondents, (92% from developed country regions) and whether this changes over time). Thus it might be useful to view the profile of RMA professionals over time. We also acknowledge that overall, recognition of RMA practice in much of the world is still relatively new (using the existence of RMA associations as a proxy)[1].  Thus it would be interesting to view the profile of responses as RMA practice matures across regions. 
  • Second, data from a longitudinal survey could potentially, also be used to inform future INORMS approaches and activities.
  • Third, particularly from an ACU perspective, I particularly welcome other longitudinal surveys in the area, to complement the ACU’s own longitudinal survey in RMA[2] (the ACU measures RMA survey). It would be informative to be able to compare individual and institutional perspectives in RMA, as well as note correlations between data received from both surveys   For example, it would be interesting to see whether the responses to our ACU measures survey question on ‘Heads of RMA function’ (the gender distribution) correlates with the general trends identified from the RAAAP survey.

During our presentation on the RAAAP survey at the 2018 INORMS conference, I conducted a quick straw poll, which confirmed wider interest in a longitudinal RAAAP survey. In light of all of the above, the advisory group proposed (successfully) to the INORMS council, a longitudinal survey, based on the 2016 RAAAP survey.


Going forward the RAAAP survey will be run biennially by INORMS (by a taskforce comprising representatives of the INORMS societies), and aims to comprise at least two major sections.  One section will be a streamlined version of the 2016 survey (as mentioned above). This section will remain the same longitudinally.  The other section will focus on specific pertinent areas of interest relevant at the time.

The next round of the survey commences in late 2018. RMAs everywhere are encouraged to participate, to help build a clearer picture of the key skills, attitudes and behaviors of and for individuals working in RMA. The overwhelming majority of response to the 2016 RAAAP survey (92.8%) came from five geographic regions only, (36. 9% from USA; 17.8% from the UK; 15.3 % from Europe; 13.3% from Oceania, 9.5%; from Canada) and only 7.2 % from the rest of the world combined.

In future, we hope to receive a higher proportion of responses from the ‘rest of the world’ (as described above) as well as from individuals based in regions currently without professional associations/ networks for RMA.

In the meantime, you can download the poster which illustrates key findings from the 2016 survey. The survey’s full outputs can be found on the RAAAP website.

[1] Professional Associations for North America (3 associations) were established between the 1950s - 1970s; for Europe, UK and Australasia (3 associations) since in the 1990s; and the rest of the world (12 associations) since 2000s (3 associations in the 2000s and 9 associations since 2010).

[2] ACU measures is the ACU’s annual online institutional benchmarking exercise.  It is based on longitudinal surveys in four areas, Institutional Profile, Salaries and Benefits, Gender and Research Management.

Patrice Ajai-Ajagbe is Programme Officer at the Association of Commonwealth Universities. She manages the ACU's research management programme which supports professionalisation and benchmarking in RMA. 

The Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU) is one of the founding members of INORMS and continues to play a role in the internationalisation of research management. Find out more here.

Last modified on 06/09/2018
Tags: research, researcher, Member Communities, ACU Research, Knowledge and Information Community, RAAAP