A snapshot of research management in Commonwealth universities – our 2017 benchmarking survey findings

As the impact of university research comes under ever-increasing scrutiny, there is growing recognition that the effective management and administration of this research can increase its impact still further. But what challenges are universities facing in this field? Do those working in research management feel they get adequate support from their institutions? What could be improved to ensure university research can have the greatest impact?

Over the past two years, 142 universities across the Commonwealth have provided valuable data on their research management and administration activities as part of ACU Measures – the ACU’s annual online benchmarking exercise. This useful process – which reopens for data collection in February – enables institutions to compare and contrast their practices and policies in a confidential and non-competitive way.

While primarily a tool for members to use themselves, our own analysis of the data offers a snapshot of the common challenges facing research management and administration staff at universities across the Commonwealth, as well as areas of strength and success.

In 2017, 81 institutions took part. The largest participant group was from Africa (37%), followed by Australia, Canada and Europe (32%), and southern Asia (23.5%). A majority of these institutions (69.5%) indicated that their research management function is largely centrally organised, regardless of their location or level of research activity.

  • Funding for research management and administration was the greatest challenge for universities taking part in 2017, followed by ‘vitalising research staff/activity’. Among key areas for improvement, ‘vitalising research staff/activity’ came top, followed by research information management.

  • The majority of institutions (61%) indicated that the cost of conducting research sometimes or often exceeded the funding available. Only 26% indicated that the cost of doing research matched the funding apportioned to it.
  • Participants were asked to indicate the extent to which they agreed with a set of statements. Of these, the statement most agreed with was: ‘The RM office(s) is involved in determining the institution’s research strategy’. In contrast, the statement most institutions disagreed with was: ‘There are sufficient numbers of RM staff at my institution’.

  • Overall, institutions rated the ethics and financial management provision within their institutions most highly, with these areas receiving the highest number of ‘very good’ ratings. There were slight country differences – in UK and Australian universities, for example, provision for the REF  (Research Excellence Framework) and RIMS (Research Information Management Systems) received the highest number of ‘very good’ ratings, followed by ethics and financial management.

  • In terms of gender distribution, heads of university research management departments fell in the middle of the range compared to other key university positions, with 62% male and 28% female (10% of institutions indicated ‘not applicable’).

  • Around 14% of participants indicated their institution mandates the use of ORCID or another such tool. ORCID is a non-profit, community-based effort to provide a registry of unique researcher identifiers and a transparent method of linking research activities and outputs to these identifiers.

Next steps for ACU Measures

In order to improve both the depth and breadth of benchmarking data available through ACU Measures, we are currently exploring an extension of the current use of data sharing and collaboration agreements with professional associations and national bodies and agencies, and increased use open access data sets. If you have any views or suggestions relating to data sharing or any other aspect of benchmarking, contact us at measures@acu.ac.uk

Last modified on 06/09/2018
Tags: research, funding, data