Why you should care about the ‘Concordat’.

If you are a researcher, and you’ve been around the sector for a while, you may have heard of ‘The Concordat’.

And it’s something you should care about, because it affects every aspect of your relationship with the University of Bristol.

And now it’s changing…

So what does that mean? And what’s it all about?

What is it?

Well, if you type ‘Concordat’ into Google. You first get the definition:

… a convention between the Holy See and a sovereign state that defines the relationship between the Catholic Church and the state in matters that concern both.

You then get the following

Combining the two…

The Concordat (so called, probably because agreements like this hark back to the religious roots of academia) is a (2008) agreement between funders of research and research organisations that stipulates what each agrees to do to support the career development of the people that they employ to do that research (i.e. you!).

It sets out

  1. What research staff should expect from their employers.
  2. What funders and research organisations would expect research staff should do for themselves.
  3. How the whole state of affairs is monitored.

What does it say?

The original Concordat is broken down into seven principles, presented here from the Concordat document itself, with summary descriptions.

  • Principle 1 is about recruitment and selection of research staff

Recognition of the importance of recruiting, selecting and retaining researchers with the highest potential to achieve excellence in research.

  • Principle 2 is about recognising and valuing research staff

Researchers are recognised and valued by their employing organisation as an essential part of their organisation’s human resources and a key component of their overall strategy to develop and deliver world-class research.

  • Principles 3 and 4 cover support and career development

Researchers are equipped and supported to be adaptable and flexible in an increasingly diverse, mobile, global research environment.

The importance of researchers’ personal and career development, and lifelong learning, is clearly recognised and promoted at all stages of their career.

  • Principle 5 details researchers’ own responsibilities

Individual researchers share the responsibility for and need to pro-actively engage in their own personal and career development, and lifelong learning.

  • Principle 6 outlines issues to do with Equality and Diversity

Diversity and equality must be promoted in all aspects of the recruitment and career management of researchers.

  • and Principle 7 is about monitoring and review

The sector and all stakeholders will undertake regular and collective review of their progress in strengthening the attractiveness and sustainability of research careers in the UK.

The rest of the document unpacks what these summaries mean in practice. And they’re worth reading. Yes, they’re a bit ‘buzzword bingo’, but knowledge is… um… knowledge, right? And if you’re targeting success in your career, in whatever shape that takes, wouldn’t you want to know exactly what to expect from Bristol’s provision (so that you can ask for it if you need it), and find out what you should be doing yourself (so that you don’t expect Bristol to do it!)?

So, is that it then? 

Well yes, and no.

As a research organisation, Bristol was one of the original signatories, and so has committed to deliver on the organisational responsibilities, and support its research staff to also do their part. That’s what Bristol Clear is about, what the CROS survey is about, what our Research Staff Reps network and the Working Party are about too.

But we also have a part to play in the monitoring, assessing and reshaping of the Concordat, as part of both the Russell Group, and Universities UK, and through organisations that consist specifically of people working in research staff development, like Researchers 14.

And that’s where things may change… because the sector itself has changed considerably since the Concordat originally came out. And so, increasingly, those of us involved in Research Staff support have been calling for it to be brought up to date.

That review is now happening.

You can read all about how it’s going on the Vitae site.

It’s not finished yet. We’re expecting to see more by the autumn. But if you want the short version, then it looks like it comes down to

  • Better coverage – PIs were missed out of the original Concordat with the expectation being that they’d be included under ‘organisation’. In practice, they are those closest to research staff, and so needed adding in their own right so that they are clear on what they should (and shouldn’t) be doing to support researcher career development.
  • More nuanced – New principles will cover the ‘culture’ rather than just the ‘policy’ that organisations have around research staff so that there’s a direct focus on addressing the reality of research staff conditions, rather than just legislating it. There are also changes to make explicit support for ‘professional’ rather than just ‘personal’ career development. So expect to see something in there about how organisations should support researchers to progress professionally – whether that be in academia, or beyond.
  • More ‘teeth’ – In the past, implementation of the Concordat was largely down to individual organisations – with rewards for good provision, but little in the opposite direction. I’m not sure we’ll go as far as ‘sanctions’ for failure to comply. But organisations are expecting greater scrutiny from funders, and there’s a good chance that we’ll see something introduced where funding may become contingent upon evidence of more than a ‘nod’ to support for research staff career development.

If only these three changes make it into the new Concordat and are implemented as the last one suggests they might be, they could pave the way to a real, tangible change in the way that researchers are supported across the sector.

We’ll keep you up to date as we hear more.