Skill-up! Research Skills Development Fund

The Skill-up! Research Skills Development Fund at the University of Hertfordshire promotes bespoke researcher development through a researcher-led mechanism for managing and distributing funding. It enables researchers to apply for training that is not offered within the university, through a competitive application process. Early career researcher (ECR) representatives from each School work together to design the process, assess the bids and distribute the funding. The scheme is well received by researchers and provides a useful developmental opportunity for the ECR representatives.

What kind of an organisation are you in the context of the Concordat?

A post-92 university, with 134 research staff; 1245 research and teaching staff (not all research active); 119 technicians; 1088 professional support staff. 346 staff were submitted for the REF.

What challenge were you trying to address with this initiative?

Skill-Up! was devised as a researcher-led mechanism for managing and distributing funding for bespoke researcher development. This enables researchers to apply for training that is not offered within the university, through a competitive application process.

What did you do and how does this align with the Principles and keywords you have selected below?

Funding was requested from the HR budget for training, to be set aside for bespoke researcher training and development. This was match-funded by the Pro-Vice Chancellor Research and Enterprise. The Researcher Development Group (RDG), which includes representative Early Career Researchers from each of the Schools in the University, decided how the money would be distributed and managed the evaluation of submissions. This is in accord with our researcher-led culture.

The current process, developed over time by the RDG, is that applications of up to £500 are considered from both groups and individuals, with two calls per year in Autumn and Spring. All staff who do research are eligible to apply, with applications from Early Career Researchers particularly welcome. Awards may be used to support wide spectrum of personal, professional or career development needs, such as (but not exclusively):

  • Organising a workshop or conference where there is a developmental element;
  • To cover or contribute to training course fees or group training activities;
  • Travel for networking;
  • Attending skills enhancement courses;
  • Business collaboration activities;
  • Undertaking community engagement/outreach and volunteering;
  • Career coaching and advice.

Funding is not for development that is already available through the Researcher Development Programme or through Learning and Organisational Development.

Criteria have been developed for considering applications. They must demonstrate a clear and specific proposal (including dates), the development impact to the applicant (and others if applicable) is clearly defined, the proposed development cannot be met through existing provision, budgets have been taken seriously and are properly defined, the application remains within the required word count.

The applications are considered against the criteria specified and assessed by a panel consisting of the RDG representatives. A scoring matrix is used with School representatives pairing up and assessing applications from two Schools.

Award winners submit a 250-word end of project report. These reports are used by the School Representatives to inspire future applications from their Schools.

What were the challenges in implementation and how did you resolve them?

Sometimes there are more applications than are worthy, for the funding assigned to that School. Such applications are collected and assessed by the Chair of the RDG and the Learning and Organisational Development Team Leader. Any unused funding from across the Schools is used for these applications. Where it is appropriate Associate Deans Research are involved in considering whether further funding is available from elsewhere within their School.

Some applications do not meet the criteria well enough to be considered. The researchers are given feedback from the panel, to help them to understand what they might need to do in order to be successful in the following round.

How did you evaluate the impact of your initiative?

The reports collected from the successful applicants indicate that this initiative is worthwhile and appreciated. The School representatives provide verbal feedback in the RDG meetings. They find the process beneficial, as it develops their experience of evaluating applications, giving feedback and advice on funding bids. The process is adapted according to feedback and discussions with the RDG. Some extracts from reports include:

“I gained support while being facilitated and guided to consider and plan specific goals; namely, to discuss and further understand ongoing research and funding opportunities tailored to my individual, current research activity and future career goals. I gained sound knowledge and greater confidence to pursue research activities in the future, equipped with guidance and advice from an external expert”.

“The funding was used to exhibit a selection of PhotoVoice photographs taken by research participants. As a result of the exhibition a local government representative has invited us to become involved in the production of some health information books for the community. This has strengthened and reinforced a good relationship between the participants and the researcher, enables them to see the impact of their involvement, thus encouraging their participation in future projects”.

“The Skill Up! award allowed us to take the vital next step of conducting two stakeholder feedback events, one online and one in person. This enabled us to engage members of a seldom-heard-from community about a key public health issue; increase the diversity of UH public and community networks and contributors; sustain our partnerships with community organisations and was capacity building with a peer researcher from one of our community partner organisations”.

“We applied for Skill Up! funding to pay for an online training course on ethnographic methods. Participant observation is a key element of our research project, as it was in this training course. So, this course was highly relevant and a timely chance to deepen our knowledge and reflect on our research practice during the course, as well as discussing our experience with the trainer and fellow participants. Going on the course together was helpful as it meant that we could compare notes and reflect on practice afterwards. This learning has improved both our current project and our methodological knowledge beyond this project. We are planning to run a seminar for colleagues later in the year when the project is completed to share learning from the course and how it was applied to the project. Our enhanced skills will also benefit the School as a whole in lending expertise to other projects”.

“The Skill Up! training fund enabled me to undertake a four-day course on Realist Evaluation (RE) in preparation for the large study that we hope to able to start in September this year. This was led by a global expert in RE and has increased my understanding and confidence in applying RE techniques and methods. As an experienced researcher, the opportunity to undertake methodology training is often difficult to access, for a range of reasons. I really appreciated having the opportunity to focus on methodological issues, and the time to really delve into these, in-depth with dedicated study time for it, over the course of the four days. This RE course undertaken will support not only our imminent research, but I hope it will also complement the wider skill set in the School around realist expertise to develop our offer as a centre with methodological expertise in realist evaluation”.

Were there any surprising or unexpected consequences?

Some Schools had much less uptake, even allowing for the size of the researcher community in the school.

What advice would you give others wanting to do this?

Publicise the call through as many channels as possible in order to reach the researchers working in the Schools. The calls have most uptake where the School Representative is pro-active in encouraging and inspiring researchers in their School to apply for the funding, and to understand that it is for personalised development opportunities.

More information about this practice example:

Beneficiaries: Research staff Postgraduate researchers Research and teaching staff Managers of researchers Professional support staff

Stakeholders: Professional staff Senior/executive team

Concordat principles: Environment and culture Professional and career development

Keywords: Research culture Training