December 21, 2023

Fifth of UK research staff ‘bullied in past two years’...

One in five research staff in UK universities have faced bullying or harassment in the past two years, a major survey has found.

According to the latest annual Culture, Employment and Development of Academic Researchers Survey (Cedars), which collected responses from 9,351 researchers from 66 institutions, some 21 per cent of respondents said they had been bullied or harassed recently – a level that rose to 24 per cent among female researchers who identified as mid-career or senior staff, compared with 18 per cent for their male counterparts.

Women are also less likely to report incidents of bullying or harassment, with 59 per cent saying they would feel comfortable doing so compared with 70 per cent of men, according to the survey carried out by Vitae, part of the Careers Research & Advisory Centre (Crac).

Female staff are less likely to trust the investigatory process regarding bullying, with 45 per cent stating they did not trust or did not know whether to trust formal procedures on bullying compared with 37 per cent of men.

The publication of the Cedars data on 7 September comes amid increased discussion about the importance of having a healthy research culture in UK universities, with Research England and the other funding councils for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland intending to increase the weighting of research environment in the REF 2028 to the same level as impact – 25 per cent.

With proposals to streamline how research environment is assessed also under consultation, some have suggested the Cedars survey data or its approach to assessing research culture could even be used to compare different institutions for the purposes of awarding some £2 billion annually in block grant research funding. 

According to the latest data from Cedars, there is considerable scepticism about the fairness and transparency of hiring and promotion of research staff, with just 33 per cent of early-career researchers agreeing that promotions at their institution were made on merit. For those who identified as mid-career or senior researchers, that proportion rose to 44 per cent.

Only about half of research staff (48 per cent) said they felt valued for their contributions to their institutions, with even higher levels of established researchers saying they were not valued for peer review (73 per cent) or management duties (56 per cent). About a third (30 per cent) said they did not feel valued for their teaching.

On research integrity, 69 per cent of respondents said they believed their institutions promoted the highest level of research integrity, and less than 10 per cent said they felt pressurised into compromising research standards or integrity. Around two-thirds said they felt comfortable reporting incidents of misconduct, with female staff feeling less comfortable than male staff at all career levels.