Industrial Action Key Issues – Career Development for Researchers

With national strike action underway at 74 universities, we are looking at the some of the key issues in the pay and pensions disputes.

As well as taking action over changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), the University and College Union (UCU) is also striking over the 2019/20 pay negotiations, matters of contractual arrangements, job security, workload and mental health, and gender and ethnicity pay.

Our second article focuses on support for researchers – an issue which has been raised by UCU as part of the pay dispute.

Current sector-wide position

Following a period of constructive dialogue with UCU, the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA), which represents 147 HE employers on a number of employment issues, including pay, recently released a range of proposals which seek to conclude the pay round and end the current pay dispute.

The proposals set sector-wide expectations to address important issues around employment in universities, with a focus on workload and mental health; gender pay gaps; ethnicity pay; and contractual arrangements.

This follows two months of constructive dialogue with UCU and national negotiations with all the trade unions including (as well as UCU), UNISON, Unite, GMB, and EIS, that began in March 2019.

On the issue of support for researchers, UCEA is proposing universities sign up to the new researchers’ Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers and develop plans for implementing its employment principles.

The Concordat is a framework for the support, development and management of researchers’ careers, setting out clear standards that research staff can expect from universities, as well as their own responsibilities as researchers.

Concordat – Progress at Liverpool

The University has been fully committed to the implementation of the principles of the Concordat since its inception and holds an HR Excellence in Research badge for its commitment in this area, awarded by the European Commission in 2011.

The Concordat was revised in 2019 by an independent Expert Review Panel which cited a number of Liverpool case studies as exemplars of best practice. The University subsequently released a refreshed Statement of Expectations in November 2019, defining local expectations of research staff and Principal Investigators (PIs) covering: Leadership and Communication, Skills Training, Research Environment and Career Development.

The Academy manages implementation of the new Corcordat at the University through an action plan which aligns with the principles of the European Charter for Researchers and Code of Conduct for the Recruitment of Researchers. Implementation is overseen by the University’s Concordat Steering Group.

As part of the University’s new Statement of Expectations, PIs are tasked with supporting the career development of researchers through a focus on development, a concern for the research environment and via the PDR as a vehicle for discussing career development, with reference to the Vitae Researcher Development Framework (RDF).

PIs are also asked to encourage research staff to undertake professional development beyond the needs of the primary project. The University asks PIs to allocate a minimum 10 days pro rata, per year, for their researchers to engage with professional development opportunities, supporting researchers to balance the delivery of their research and their own professional development, recognising that researchers will pursue careers across a wide range of employment sectors.

The new Statement of Expectations also encourages researchers themselves to take ownership of their career development by making the most of the support and opportunities the University makes available. Researchers are encouraged to develop a plan for a career pathway, with support from the PI and using specialist University skills, advice and training.

Research staff are encouraged to visit the University’s HR Excellence in Research webpages to find out more and read the Statement of Expectations. Queries can be directed to:


The University has also boosted its support for postdoctoral researchers by leading a new initiative aimed at developing researchers with the broader capabilities, attributes and mindset needed to thrive in multiple careers.

Prosper, a £4.4M project which is being led at Liverpool by the Academy, aligns with the People Strand of the UK Government’s Industrial Strategy, and will tackle equality, diversity and inclusivity issues that usually present barriers to training for postdoctoral researchers.

Research England is contributing £3.6m from its Development Fund, while a range of partners and investors across industry and local leadership are contributing the remaining £0.8m.

Prosper offers postdoctoral researchers, PIs and employers the opportunity to co-create a new career development model that challenges the existing norms that currently define postdoctoral success. The ultimate goal is to open up the huge talent pool that exists within the postdoctoral research community, to the benefit of PDRs themselves, employers and the wider UK economy.

Phase One of the project will see the development of a series of tools, resources and effective practice case studies open to all postdoctoral researchers regardless of contract length. Phase Two will deliver structured, targeted development interventions for identified cohorts of postdoctoral researchers from partner universities, Lancaster and Manchester.

On completion of the project, the University intends to roll out the model across universities in the N8 Research Partnership and subsequently open up access to universities across the UK to ensure its sustainability.

Are you a postdoctoral researcher or PI or who can contribute to the development of Prosper? Please get in touch with the team to find out more about upcoming focus groups and other opportunities to get involved. Email:

Further information and resources

*The University of Liverpool Research Staff Association (UoL RSA) is a research community-owned and led initiative. Upon commencement of their contracts, research staff automatically become members of the UoL RSA. The group organises regular Lunch and Learn sessions targeted at developing researchers’ careers as well as an annual research staff conference.

*Visit our Research Staff Development pages which contain a wide range of resources, including information about tailored research staff development opportunities as well as signposts to wider development activities across the University.

*A dedicated Researcher Hub was launched in 2018. The pages aim to make it easier for all research staff to find the information they need quickly. They bring together information from a variety of both University and external websites, all in one place, to help research staff in their role and career.

*The annual Making an Impact Series of activities include a range of events for researchers on the different ways in which we can create and enhance research impact. The series is designed to respond to Liverpool’s research staff diversity and their ability to engage with development. The Making an Impact series has provided a step-change in development practice at Liverpool, in seeking to provide innovative research-impact development opportunities for the pipeline of ECR talent. Making an Impact 2020 will run 1 – 19 June 2020.

*Frequently Asked Questions on the industrial action for staff and students are available on our intranet.