Posted on: 26/04/2024

Exploring the needs of less-resourced universities

By Udeni Wijayasiri, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Consultant, Future Leaders Fellows Development Network.

As part of the Enabling Future Research Leaders (EFRL) programme, Future Leaders Fellows Development Network has been exploring the needs of less well-resourced universities. As the EDI consultant for the Future Leaders Fellows Development Network, I am interested in improving equality of access across the sector. Universities that receive less research funding have fewer people and smaller budgets to support their researchers. This leads to a vicious cycle, whereby Russell Group institutions tend to attract the funds and researchers, and those outside the sector struggle to establish and grow a research base. We are talking to researcher developers in the less highly ranked REF 2021 findings report to find out their needs, pressure points, and how our EFRL programme could help them.

Despite working in small, budget-restricted teams, researcher developers in these institutions have big ambitions. They view their roles as being strategic and wide-ranging. Without the budget to provide personalised and externally sourced training to their researchers, they focus instead on connecting researchers to experts inside and outside the institution. They are creative in how they go about developing their own networks, focussing instead on cultivating people and resources who could deliver training, provide funding, or other tangible benefits for their researchers.


Overall, interviewees described their roles as consisting of six major activities:


Figure 1 The Six Roles of Researcher Development Teams



Opportunity Creation


In this first blog post, we will explore how funding- and time-constrained researcher developers go about finding the time and money to create opportunities for academics.

The researcher developer role involves finding funding from internal and external sources, in order to create opportunities for researchers. They source internal, often seed funding for very early career researchers, which is typically less than £5000. They also create opportunities by connecting other researchers to existing in-house training.

“We will find any small pots of money around [in our institution] and go for it. We might piggyback onto something offered by the Doctoral College, like SPSS training or something and ask if other researchers could be invited.”

Given their lack of budget or other staff, researcher developers are constrained by time.

“The only budget I have is for my salary. So I’m like a one-man band. If I don’t have time to do it, then it doesn’t get done.”

Time constraints mean that applying for a large grant could eat up huge amounts of their time. Researcher Developers are reluctant to invest that time unless given support from senior academics, their finance teams and contract management teams. A possible solution would be for funders to support external networks. A good example is  the North-West Researcher Development Network set up by Dr Rachel Woolley at the University of Salford, which brings researcher developers together from less well-resourced universities in the North West of England. At bi-monthly meetings, the group share news, resources, and apply collectively for funding, such as training potential FLFs on how to apply for a grant. Creating and funding similar informal networks across the UK would allow isolated researcher developers to come together, share ideas, and collaborate on projects.


Enabling Future Research Leaders

The Network is producing  free, publicly available resources which will help with these types of funding and time constraints. Resources that will be particularly helpful for less-research intensive universities include a “First in Family” Toolkit, and a ‘Recruitment Toolkit’ which will help researchers who are the first in their family to become academics navigate their career.

Additionally, the model of Plus Funds, whereby researcher developers with an FLF in their institution can apply for up to £25,000 of funding from within the Network, could be extended beyond the life of the FLFDN programme. The Plus Funds model would provide much-needed funding for researcher development projects, such as specialist methods training, holding an event, or recruiting a temporary member of staff.


Stay posted for the next blogpost: on how researcher developers source knowledge from internal and external networks.

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