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Two-thirds of early career researchers doubt fairness of promotion processes

More than two-thirds of early career researchers in UK universities believe that promotion and progression at their institution is unfair.

According to a survey by the researcher development organisation Vitae, junior researchers are much less likely than established staff to believe the processes are fair.

33% of junior researchers thought that their institution had equal opportunities for career progression, in comparison to 50% of senior staff. When asked whether they felt promotions made at their institutions were based on merit, the numbers were 34% and 49% respectively.

Just under a third (29%) of early career researchers believed that they were treated fairly in relation to promotion and progression. The comparative total for lecturers and senior researchers is 58%.

According to the survey, that sense of unfairness could translate into other areas – 37% of junior staff felt that they were treated fairly in inclusion in submission for the research excellence framework, compared to 81% of senior staff.

By identifying the successes and importantly, the challenges of the researcher environment – we can collectively work towards creating improved support around culture, employment and the professional development of researchers so that research can continue to flourish and thrive

– Jane Metcalfe

The imbalance continued in several other areas, with early career researchers less likely to feel their contributions were recognised on funding applications (34%, compared to 14% of established staff), teaching and learning (32% to 10%), administration (51% to 31%) and peer reviewing (57% to 47%).

The survey suggests that these results are reflective of the contractual status of junior researchers. 76% of these respondents are on fixed-term contracts, compared with 10%.

Despite 22% of female and 13% of male junior researchers saying they felt bullied or harassed over the past two years, 72% of the respondents reported good job satisfaction.

Janet Metcalfe, head of Vitae, said: “By identifying the successes and importantly, the challenges of the researcher environment – especially during the current pandemic – we can collectively work towards creating improved support around culture, employment and the professional development of researchers so that research can continue to flourish and thrive.”

Vitae surveyed 3,025 academics across 22 campuses over the course of the study. It was conducted last year to measure progress against the goals of the UK’s main sector guidelines on academic careers.

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