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The UK government has a goal to become the most innovative economy by 2030. In order to achieve this it is essential to take action to remove structural barriers that may prevent talented researchers to reach their full potential. The significant body of research, undertaken by the Centre over a period of 15 years, which focuses on equality issues in research careers has had a demonstrable significant impact on the HE sector. In 2008, the Centre won a competitive commission from ECU/HEFCE to investigate and evaluate the implementation of equality guidance issued by the Founding Councils for the national Research Assessment Exercise (RAE 2008). This guidance was issued to assessing panels and to Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) in response to legal requirements and to ensure the promotion of equality and diversity in the RAE 2008. For this purpose each HEIs submitting their academic staff’s research to RAE 2008 were required to develop a code of practice to ensure that all excellent researchers were submitted including those whose volume of research might have been limited due to equality-related circumstances such as caring responsibilities, absence from work due to maternity/adoption leave, and disability.
The study provided a series of evidence-based recommendations which were included in the Funding Councils’ subsequent Equality Guidance to ensure greater inclusivity in the Research Excellence Framework 2014 (which replaced the RAE).The Policy Director of ECU commented that the study made ‘a significant contribution to the development of the policies and practices that are linked to the new Research Excellence Framework’. These recommendations clearly worked: the percentage of academic staff with a lower number of research outputs (because of caring responsibilities, disabilities and other equality issues) more than doubled in the 2014 REF submission (from 12.2% in RAE 2008 to 29.2%), The national Equality Diversity Advisory Panel (EDAP 2015) commented: “This increase indicates that the new arrangements have enabled institutions to be more inclusive in their submissions, and that staff trusted the process and were provided with a safe environment in which to disclose their circumstances”. This demonstrates how the work of the Centre was instrumental in enabling the UK Funding Councils to develop a clearer and more robust equality guidance which enabled HEI to be more inclusive in their submissions. This benefitted both individual careers and the UK research base to ensure maximum benefits from all excellent research.
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