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Concordat Implementation Plan - 10-Year Vitae Interim Review

Context of The Open University

The Open University (OU) was first awarded the European Commission’s HR Excellence in Research (HREiR) Award in 2013. The 10-year review follows previous reviews at the 2, 4, 6, and 8-year marks, with the last one in 2022 to assess progress against the Concordat Implementation Plan (CIP) 2020-2022.

The Open University’s mission to be open to people, places, methods and ideas is delivered through our values of inclusivity, innovation and responsiveness. As indicated in the OU’s new five-year Research Plan, within our mission we state a commitment to create world-class research. This commitment has been strengthened by our University Strategy for 2022 to 2027 entitled “Learn and Live”, in which a goal is to enhance our societal impact through research, enterprise and skills development.

With over 1000 academic and 149 researchers on research-only contracts, working with teams of professional services and technicians, approaching 1000 postgraduate research students (including 200 research students in 18 Affiliated Research Centres distributed across the world), we are a large research institution with comprehensive coverage of research fields across all four faculties.

The OU Research Plan published in the autumn of 2022 commits the OU to changing the way we conduct research and make decisions on prioritisation. The OU seeks to broaden the range of people, including students, who contribute to our decision-making processes.

This 10-year review highlights progress made, key achievements in terms of our key stakeholders of 149 researchers on research-only contracts, areas where further effort needs to be directed in the next three years to these items and the backward- and forward-looking template using the new Researcher Development Concordat (RDC) template.

How the internal evaluation was undertaken

For this report, a three-stage process was followed in order to determine how the OU made progress following the 8-year HREiR review.

In the first stage, 28 researchers shared their thoughts and perspectives as part of three workshops on 26 and 28 September 2022, which helped to frame the pilot implementation of Culture, Employment and Development in Academic Research Survey (CEDARS). Specific questions on the Post-Pandemic ways of working were added based upon concerns raised by focus group participants.

In the second stage, between 14 October-15 November 2022, the OU piloted CEDARS and in total 79 (55%) researchers completed CEDARS, which is well above the average UK response rate (20%), as well as over 200 comments.

In the third stage, a range of key stakeholders were informed to share and discuss the findings. Initially, the preliminary results were discussed with the Researcher Development Concordat Steering Group (RDCSG), with researcher representatives from all four faculties, on 5 December 2022. The preliminary results were also discussed at a Faculty of Wellbeing, Education and Language Studies (WELS) researcher working group meeting on 12 December 2022, which were attended by 10 researchers.

A follow-up paper was written by RDCSG that was discussed and subsequently approved by the Research Committee (i.e., “responsible to The Open University Senate for strategy and policy relating to research on 18 January 2023).

The “Researcher Career Development Concordat Annual Report” was discussed and approved at Senate on 1 February 2023, and afterwards approved by OU Council on 7 March 2023.

A subsequent workshop to discuss the results was held on 8 March 2023 with five researchers. Findings from CEDARS, faculty inputs, and the three workshops with researchers have also fed into this review report, as well as the backward- and forward-looking action plan.

In comparison to the UK sector, the results from the CEDARS pilot implementation suggest the OU is performing on par and often substantially better than the sector on most criteria based upon responses from 79 (55%) OU researchers. On 28 criteria the OU performed statistically significantly better than the sector, including job satisfaction (85%, +11% relative to sector), feeling valued (74%, + 19%), having an inclusive research environment (84%, + 7%), being well supported by line-manager (87%, + 10%). At the same time, relative to the sector the OU has relatively more researchers who are from a more diverse BAME (black and minority ethnic) background (29%, + 14%), and more researchers who are more likely to indicate they have a disability or health condition (34%, +14%). The OU, relative to the sector, has more research staff on a fixed term contract (67%, +7%) but the trend of appointment is moving in the right direction (in 2017 it was 77%).

A detailed description of the results informs the “Annual Report for the Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers” is provided as Appendix, which has been approved by OU Council.

Governance structure

The HREiR Concordat is monitored and evaluated on behalf of Pro-Vice Chancellor, Research & Innovation (PVC-R&I) by RDCSG that meets three times a year and reports annually to Research Committee which is Chaired by the PVC-R&I. Since 2022, the period covered by this report, the OU has undergone considerable governance, strategic and organisational changes and has also adapted to a post-COVID-19 world. Where these changes have had an impact on progress against success measures, they will be highlighted in the report and/or on the backward-looking/forward-looking action plan.

The OU Research Plan commits the OU to changing the way we conduct research and make decisions on prioritisation. The OU seeks to broaden the range of people, including researchers, who contribute to our decision-making processes. There are strong synergies and opportunities to address several of the actions with the Research Plan, in particular Activity 2: The Next Generation. The Chair of RDCSG is working together with the Graduate School Director; the Director, Research, Enterprise and Scholarship; and the PVC-R&I to support and implement the Action Plan.

Research staff representatives are on the OU Research Committee, RDCSG, and were on the OU Steering Group for the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2021. The Research Plan aims to create opportunities for staff (and students) to be actively involved in decision-making processes throughout the implementation of this research plan. During the consultation of the OU Research Plan we had over 1800 ideas from across the OU for future challenges the OU should address. At present the Open Societal Challenges (OSC) Programme has received 134 Challenges from the OU community, 124 of which are currently being developed through the Programme as Research Challenges aiming to produce high quality research outputs and long-term societal impact. The OSC Programme is also recruiting its first Citizen Advisory Panel (CAP), composed of OU students, staff, and alumni, which will act in an advisory capacity to help shape the OSC portfolio and its long-term vision. Members of RDCSG are also active contributors to submissions to Athena SWAN, the Race Equality Charter, and the Concordat to Support Research Integrity.

Past progress and Achievement

Since our 8-year approved HREIR award in February 2022 there have been several external and internal pressures that have affected some of our action plan activities and measures of success. There were several internal staffing changes in the RDCSG since February 2022. For example, internal funding for establishing an agile project team to address the action points unfortunately was not approved in June 2022. In part, several of the proposed activities are embedded in the Next Generation part of the OU Research Plan. Furthermore, the financial climate has been more challenging internally and externally, therefore limiting resources.

In this summary report we provide three examples of how the institution’s strategic objectives and implementation plans supported our key stakeholders: Fellowship Academy, Faculty initiatives and CEDARS.

Fellowship Academy

The Fellowship Academy (FA) has been launched by the OU to boost the career prospects of promising researchers with a six-month pilot programme between September 2021 to March 2022. The purpose of the FA is “to aid 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).” 34 applicants applied for 17 places, whereby “the training programme included academic mentoring, coaching conversations (workshop plus follow up 1:1 session), a series of grant funding masterclasses (including a virtual writing retreat), a buddying system, access to additional research development support and ring-fenced pump priming funds (£5K per cohort member) for external engagement and/or career development.”

Evaluations indicated that 90% were satisfied with the FA.

Cohort 2 of the FA was launched in February 2023, again offering pump priming, training courses ranging from bid writing to career coaching. A review of both cohorts will feed into the development of The Next Generation.

Faculty Intiatives

Each of the four faculties has arranged specific activities to support their researchers. For example, within the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS), a one-day hybrid event was organised by and for Research Associates and Research Assistants on 28 September 2022.

In the Faculty of Wellbeing, Education and Language Studies (WELS) a specific Research Associate/Research Fellow Working group has been initiated, who meets every quarter to share good practice.


CEDARS provides an initial benchmark of the OU’s current position for research only contracted staff.

In comparison to the UK sector, the OU is performing on par and often substantially better than the sector on most criteria based upon responses from 79 (55%) OU researchers. On 28 criteria the OU performed statistically significantly better than the sector, including job satisfaction (85%, +11% relative to sector), feeling valued (74%, +19%), having an inclusive research environment (84%, +7%), being well supported by line-manager (87%, +10%).

In terms of Environment and Culture, as indicated by CEDARS, overall, OU researchers indicated to work in a supportive environment and culture.

In this reporting period, the Researcher Developer Concordat Steering Group (RDCSG) has worked towards ECI1, ECI6, and ECR5 following the action plan. Due to COVID-19, global financial challenges, several unexpected staff changes and long-term absences in the Concordat Steering Group, we had to prioritise our actions based upon available resources. In this reporting period we primarily focussed on:

In line with the RDC action plan, in order to further raise awareness of the Concordat we developed internal websites dedicated to Research Career Development and Concordat, attended a range of Faculty specific events, and ran several focus groups. For example, we have started promoting the internal RCD website via a newly released bi-monthly newsletter to 150+ members of the Researcher community since December 2022, which includes updates, highlights from the training provided each month, and where to find relevant resources.

While previously in the Careers in Research Online Survey (CROS) in 2019, 62% of respondents indicated to have never heard of Concordat, in the recent CEDARS this was reduced to 38% (i.e., 24% improvement), which is a positive indication that our actions have been helpful to raise awareness within the OU researcher community.

  • ECI1: Ensure that all relevant staff are aware of the Concordat

Following CEDARS, on average 85% (+ 11%) of researchers have a good level of job satisfaction, have a manager who promotes a good work-life balance (85% (+11%)), feel included in the immediate research environment (85% (+11%)), and feel valued (82% (+6%)). For example, one researcher indicated that the OU has:

Friendly work environment, flexibility/support from direct managers, real opportunities of collaboration and interacting with researchers in other areas.


In terms of equality and diversity (EDI), again the OU performed above the sector with 87% of researchers indicating that the OU is committed to EDI (+10%). 76% (+10%) trust that staff are treated irrespective of any protected characteristics, and 73% (+7%) trust that the OU will investigate any reported incident of discrimination fairly. In comparison to the sector, 5% (=0%) personally felt discriminated against whilst at work, and 2% reported any incidents of discrimination (-3%). We found no significant differences in terms of gender in CEDARS.

  • ECI6: Regularly review and report on the quality of the research environment and culture, including seeking feedback from researchers, and use the outcomes to improve institutional practices

The OU has extensively consulted with research staff in 2021-22 on the development of the OU Research Plan, including on the identification of research challenges that the OU should focus on and on the environment for research at the OU. The OU has launched an Open Societal Challenge Platform, which is “community-driven, bottom-up ideation, enhancing collaboration and societal impact generation”. At present there are 134 challenges identified by OU staff and researchers in terms of sustainability, living well, and tackling inequalities, and is organically growing, and provides seed-funding and support for researchers. As previously highlighted in the first section, another key part of the OU Research plan is “Activity 2 Next Generation”.

In terms of Employment, in general there is an improving (downward) trend in the percentage of researchers on fixed term contracts (FTC), from 77% in 2017 to 68% in 2023. Furthermore, as indicated by CEDARS results the OU researchers are more positive about promotion and progress opportunities in comparison to the sector. In this reporting period, for the employment pillar, the RDCSG has prioritized EI4, EI6, EI7.

  • ECR5: Consider opportunities to contribute to policy development aimed at creating a more positive research environment and culture within their institution.

At the institutional level, there are support provisions in place for line managers about Management Practices, Difficult conversations etc. As indicated by CEDARS results, researchers are in general very positive about their respective line manager, whereby 91.1% receive constructive feedback, 88.6% support their research identity, and regular career development reviews (60.3%, +20%).

  • EI4: Provide effective line and project management training opportunities for managers of researchers, heads of department and equivalent.

Together with stakeholders RDCSG regularly reviews the FTC status whereby a member of People Services sits on the RDCSG and reports quarterly on employment figures of our research staff. In January 2021 69.7% (101), and more recently in February 2023 68.5% (102) out of 149 researchers were on a FTC. While this is still above the UK sector (60%), the trend is moving towards the sector average.

In terms of professional development, in general OU researchers are more positive about their professional development relative to the sector, whereby 52% (+ 12%) have a CPD plan, and primarily want additional training in leadership and managing others (71%), and project management (60%). This is echoed by researcher B1.12 who indicated to have:

Very supportive colleagues; the ethos of the OU to be supportive of alternative routes into and through education.

  • EI6: Seek to improve job security for researchers, for example through more effective redeployment processes and greater use of open-ended contracts, and report on progress.

In total, 36 sessions were run by the Researcher Career Development (RCD) team in this academic year (e.g., Career Development for researchers, Getting Published for ECRs, Research Ethics & Integrity, Research Methods, Network science and Supervisor Training). In total, 679 OU staff attended these trainings of which 34 were from our Affiliated Research Centres (ARCs), 86 researchers attended. Of the 25 RCD trainings currently evaluated the average satisfaction rate is 97% (based upon 247 respondents).

Through these events, some participants explained that their academic units had run an analogous training event, sometimes linked with a publication plan including ECRs. All academic units were encouraged to learn from those initiatives and organize their own, with greater continuity than the RCD programme could provide. Furthermore, as mentioned previously the newly introduced Fellowship Academy allowed 17 researchers to further strengthen their academic profile and career.

In addition to the wide training provisions supporting career development (in and beyond academia), a new mentoring system is being developed to ensure every staff member has access to a member if they want it, as well as access provided to a coaching service, and online courses in mentoring on the OU's virtual learning centre. As previously mentioned, in the third stage a range of key stakeholders were informed to share and discuss the findings, and most participants recognised themselves in the main narratives described above.

Strategic objectives and implementation plan

As indicated in the OU Research Plan, within our mission we state a commitment to create world-class research. This commitment has been strengthened by our University Strategy for 2022 to 2027 entitled “Learn and Live”, in which a goal is to enhance our societal impact through research, enterprise and skills development. From the five-year OU Research Plan:

“To deliver on our ambitions for research and achieve our social mission, we need a more diverse staff and research student population to bring a broad range of perspectives and experiences into our research culture and environment. We need to reduce barriers to engage with research and focus resources to build the next generation of research leaders across our faculties."


  • Improve our understanding of the barriers for the next generation. We will increase our qualitative and quantitative analysis of research career progression at all career stages and for all protected characteristics within the OU. We will investigate opportunities and challenges in realising the potential of our four nations presence as staff develop their careers. This analysis will be used to prioritise investment to tackle the most pressing issues.
  • Create opportunities for staff and students to be actively involved in decision-making processes throughout the implementation of this research plan. We will continue to consult on the implementation and progress of this plan. As introduced under the societal challenges activity, we will create panels with memberships drawn from across our student and staff body and with contributions from external stakeholders. These panels will contribute to Research Board recommendations on resource allocation and will play a key role in assessing our progress against our stated outcomes.
  • Prioritise societal challenges and other projects that embed mechanisms to support career progression, and address inequalities. Our criteria for prioritisation of support will include a commitment to the next generation. For example, projects that include mentorship, diverse teams and other mechanisms to help the next generation will have a greater chance of receiving funding. Projects lacking these mechanisms will be supported to adopt best practice.
  • Simplify mechanisms to attract externally funded fellows. We will work with our Faculties to create a single route to attract applicants who wish to apply for fellowships and to support them through their applications.

As evidenced above despite limited new resources substantial positive developments have been achieved. For example, the Fellowship Academy pilot was successful and helped 17 researchers, while several faculties have provided dedicated activities to support and help their researchers. Furthermore, the pilot implementation of CEDARS suggested that relative to the sector the OU is doing well in terms of job satisfaction, feeling valued, being supported by line managers, and providing professional development opportunities. Obviously, the OU Research Plan is a substantial step forward to support our current and future researchers. We will continue to engage with our key stakeholders on how to further improve the career prospects of our next generation of research leaders.

Several other OU initiatives have directly and indirectly helped researchers, including work on the OU equality scheme 2022-2026, Research Excellence Framework (REF), and the OU Research Exellence Awards. The OU equality scheme 2022-2026 sets out how as an organisation we are committed to developing an inclusive university community. Through our equality objectives, we aim to eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment, and victimisation, to promote and advance equality of opportunity and to promote and foster good relations between people. Each faculty and unit will produce an annual equality action plan that sets out their objectives for the next 12 months. The Graduate School Director with the newly appointed Researcher Development Concordat chair Prof Clare Warren will together develop an implementation plan for Next Generation, and how to best support our researchers. Prof Warren will be seconded for two days a week via PVC R&I (start 1 July 2023). Furthermore, a new Grade 7 manager will support the Next Generation implementation, implying further strategic investment by the OU.

Following modifications are proposed to make our action plan and measures of success as a result:

  1. ECI4: given the need to prioritise available resource across a number of fronts the developments of workshops for managers has not started yet (deadline 30/09/2023). We propose to align this with activities in OU Research Plan.
  2. PCDI1: Due to staff shortages and other organisational pressures described above we have not been able to pilot a system that allows researchers to record their days of professional development. We propose to align this with activities in OU Research Plan: 1) Align with OU Research Plan/Next Generation stream to investigate an appropriate mechanism to record, monitor, and evaluate professional development time (April 2024); 2) Pilot test recording mechanism (September 2024); 3) Implement recording mechanism across the OU (September 2025)