ACU Measures Supporting Research Survey

ACU Measures Supporting Research Survey: a snapshot into the higher education research landscape

Published on 14 February 2023

The Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU) has today published the results of the inaugural ACU Measures Supporting Research Survey, revealing significant disparities in access to funding, research support systems and gender equity in university research ecosystems across the Commonwealth.

ACU Measures is the ACU’s annual online benchmarking service exclusively for ACU members. The survey results collected enable universities to benchmark and contextualise their own research activities and learn about best practice from their peers in an anonymous and non-competitive way.

Designed in consultation with members, the Supporting Research Survey provides rare insight into different types of research activities and research support structures that exist across the ACU’s membership.

Unequal access to research funding

Following a survey of 95 universities in 29 countries, the results highlight unequal access to research funding and research support mechanisms in lower income countries.

Universities in lower income countries were found to commit more than double the amount of institutional income to supporting research than their counterparts in high income countries and receive 50% less income from industry collaborations.

European respondents were the only region where all participating institutions report receiving some funding from their national governments. By contrast, 17% of African institutions reported receiving no government funding at all for research. 54% of research budgets in higher income countries were found to be funded by external grant income.  88% of all research grants applications reported were from high income countries, at a rate of over 1,000 applications per institution on average.

Persisting gender imbalances

The survey also identifies a persisting gender imbalance in academic appointments, with male staff outnumbering their female counterparts and making up 57% of the academic population. There is also a significant skew in the supply of PhD students towards higher income countries with the proportion of female PhD graduates at 51% compared to 21% in lower income countries.

Together, these divides represent a major obstacle in the drive for inclusive and equitable access to higher education by 2030 – a target of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4.

SDGs and local environment key priorities of research strategies

The survey results also reveal the United Nations’ SDGs and the local environment are key priorities of institutional research strategies for an overwhelming majority of universities. Of the 95 ACU members surveyed, 93% of survey respondents confirmed the existence of an institution-wide research strategy. Of those, 78% identified the SDGs or local environment (water, energy, agriculture, etc) as key priorities for organising research at the institutional level.

Other notable survey findings include:

  • Systems for supporting grant applications and grant management are shown to be unevenly distributed with 97% of institutions in higher income countries having access to electronic systems and databases compared with only 43% in lower income countries.
  • Research publication figures are stated as the primary driver of academic promotion. 95% of respondents cited the number and quality of peer-reviewed publications as the most important indicator of success of their research functions. This indicator was selected at higher rates than creating a positive social benefit or achieving stated impact.
  • 50% of respondents stated that translating research into sustainable outputs such as socio-economic or policy benefits was one of the greatest challenges they faced.
  • ACU members secured over 7,000 university-industry partnerships and academic staff undertook over 2,500 consultancies in the academic year prior to completing ACU Measures. Such partnerships provide a mutually beneficial mechanism for driving research and innovation both within and beyond the university.
  • ACU members have produced over 13,000 new PhD graduates in the academic year prior to completing ACU Measures.
  • The majority of higher education institutions are seeking to grow their postgraduate populations further. One third of respondents identified increasing PhD numbers as a key area for future financial investment.
  • There are significant variations in the types and extent of institutional research support mechanisms available for academic and research management staff across the ACU’s membership.
  • Whilst all institutions facilitate trainings and workshop for academic staff at some level, the survey highlights unevenness in the provision of dedicated support and academic mentoring schemes available to early career researchers across regions.

Commenting on the news, William Bramwell, Senior Research Officer at the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU), said:

‘We are delighted to announce the results of the ACU Measures Supporting Research Survey, the findings of which provide a unique snapshot into the research support structures, priorities, and provisions that drive university research across the ACU's global network.

The findings highlight long-standing disparities that continue to shape the wider research and research funding landscape, as well the different ways in which ACU members navigate and respond to these across all regions.

We look forward to building on the success of this first survey, and continuing to provide our members with unparalleled sector insight and knowledge to help strengthen research capacity across the world.’

Professor Paul Ivey, Associate Vice President Graduate Studies, Research and Entrepreneurship at University of Technology Jamaica, and a member of the ACU added:

‘The ACU Measures Supporting Research Survey provides exceptional insight into the research funding landscape, revealing both the scale of university research activities and the types of institutional resource deployed at various stages across the research lifecycle.

By taking part in ACU Measures we have gained huge insight into different research approaches in a variety of institutional and geographical contexts across the Commonwealth.  ACU Measures represents a unique opportunity for the global higher education sector to meaningfully share expertise, and learn from one another in an anonymous and non-competitive way. Additionally, the bespoke institutional reports derived from the survey will also be extremely useful to inform evidence-based decision-making.’

Download the Executive Summary

© Association of Commonwealth Universities 2023. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 4.0 licence.  

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Find out more about ACU Measures 

If you are a member of the ACU you can sign up to ACU Measures today and complete the survey to view the full results. 95 universities in 29 countries have already taken part.

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