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Next Generation

The aim of the Next Generation activities is to support the University’s diverse researchers to thrive equitably. The intention is to support researchers at The Open University, with a special emphasis on the ‘Next Generation’, ie early career researchers and research career trajectories. Next Generation includes and extends the Concordat to support the Career Development of Researchers to include all academics at the University who undertake research. It also supports institutional commitments such as the Technician Commitment, as well as commitments regarding equity including Athena Swan and the Race Equality Charter.

The activities have a particular focus on equity. In December 2022, UKRI published its updated Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) data and report. It is clear, from this report as well as others, that access to, and progression in research careers are differentially experienced depending on individual characteristics of researchers.

Other key data relating to the national research community

Only 41 of the 22,000 professors in the UK are Black British women.

UKRI’s latest diversity data report shows that the successful award rate for PIs on projects funded by UKRI was lowest for ‘Black and Minority Ethnic’ researchers, for women and for researchers with a declared disability. The award rates for these groups were lower than an expected in comparison to the academic population overall (noting that language such as ‘Black and Minority Ethnic’ ‘Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic’ is contested and debated

There are low levels of representation of women, Black and Minority Ethnic and disabled students in those funded for PhD study through UKRI/Research Council Doctoral Training Programmes.

An OECD report notes that reliance on short term fixed contracts presents a significant challenge for academic research, which depends on the long-term commitment and motivation of talented individuals. In the UK 68% of staff on ‘research only’ contracts are on fixed term contracts, with a disproportionate number of women and Black and Minority Ethnic researchers.

The ambitious intent of this area of work is to address equity in research development through a number of targeted activities.

Next Generation Activities

The Concordat logo with the words 'The Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers'

Concordat to support the Career Development of Researchers

The Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers is an agreement between employers of researchers and research funders that outlines obligations and expectations for the professional development and employment conditions of researchers in the UK. A Researcher Development Concordat Steering Group monitors progress and actions identified in the University’s Concordat Implementation plan as well as ensuring alignment with Next Generation activities.

A black Labrador lying down on the grass and wearing a blue harness

Disability Initiative

Research evidence and international reports reveal that disabled researchers face significant challenge in accessing, participating and progressing in research careers from doctoral studies onwards. The Open University has more students with a registered disability than an average UK university has students overall. This uniquely positions us with lived experience, pedagogical and research expertise to work with others to address the challenges for development of researchers with disabilities and/or health conditions.

On September 9, 2023, the Next Generation team hosted an international online conference "Exploring Equitable Research Careers for Disabled Researchers". The event brought together a wealth of expertise which showcased best practice across the university sector, including initiatives within universities, research career development organisations and others - with the aim of supporting action and tangible outcomes. Over 200 delegates attended on the day.

Find out more about the conference, download the presentations and watch the recordings

100 Black Women Professors Now logo

100 Black Women Professors Now

Organised by the Women in Higher Education Network (WHEN) in 2022, the 100 Black Women Professors Now (BWPN) is a pioneering cross-institutional, trans disciplinary, unique 12-month systemic change programme. Its aim is to increase the diversity of the academic pipeline by providing opportunities to accelerate the career progression of Black women academics on the pathway to professorship, making a meaningful difference, NOW. So far, Next Generation has provided funding and mentorship to six participants.

Researcher development and conditions

A key focus of the Next Generation activities is researcher development. This includes reviewing our researcher training provision and how academics access provision. It also includes a focus on fixed term contracts and ways in which the university can address research precarity, a sector-wide concern.

PGR Futures

PGR Futures is a series of activities to understand current PGR programmes and strategically consider future developments. The review has taken place within the context of current institutional strategic development and the changing external environment.

The review has four areas of focus:

  1. PGR Environments, a review of effective PGR environments on/offline, on and off campus, to map programme delivery to these considerations and that capitalise on, and develop, OU educational expertise into PGR
  2. Affiliated Research Centre (ARC) and Partnership Review, consideration of the role and purpose of the ARC programme within the overarching PGR (and wider) OU communities. To further explore models of collaboration with other institutions nationally and internationally.
  3. Training Review, review of training provision for students and supervisors
  4. Programmes, consideration of possible additions to PGR programmes based on a strategic consideration of issues including Faculty PGR plans, supervisory capacity.

Fellowship Academy

The Fellowship Academy supports the development of the next generation of independent researchers and/or a future leader in their respective discipline by providing a dedicated training programme for OU Early Career Researchers (ECRs). The aims of the Fellowship Academy are:

  • to increase ECRs’ knowledge of the funding landscape and understanding of the bid application and peer review process
  • to equip ECRs with the necessary bid writing skills to write a highly competitive funding application and increase their chances of securing external funding
  • to provide networking opportunities to facilitate cross faculty relationship building
  • to support the research career development of ECRs

An evaluation of the first two cohorts of the programme will inform further iterations of the Academy, the next planned for 2025.

The Technician Commitment logo

Technician Commitment

More than 91 universities and research institutions from across the UK have backed a pledge to support their technicians. The Technician Commitment is a sector-wide initiative led by the Science Council, supported by the Gatsby Foundation to help address key challenges facing technical staff working in research. The commitment will ensure greater visibility, recognition, career development and sustainability for technicians across all disciplines.

The Faculty of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) is an Employer Champion and a founding signatory of the Technician Commitment. STEM is committed to progressing the career development of its staff by supporting them in their continuing professional development and ensuring that their competency is recognised by promoting professional registration.