Improving Research Together

A Proposal to Newcastle University Management and the  Newcastle University Community


Newcastle University exists to further human understanding of the universe for the benefit of humanity. The UCU recognises that in order to do this, performing well in key audit exercises such as the REF is important as a means to this end. UCU shares the management’s aspiration to do this by improving research. We recognise that Raising the Bar (RTB) was intended to improve the research environment and output of Newcastle University, but the difficulties arising in its conception and application make it unlikely to succeed.

UCU asks the management to (1) withdraw RTB’s Research Expectations documents, and instead (2) to enter into a collaborative process called ‘Improving Research Together’ (IRT).

We propose the outline of an inclusive, collegial, evidence-based, bottom-up process to devise a non-coercive framework in which to foster a higher-performing research community. It would be a partnership between the academic and academic-related staff, and the management (many of whom are academics themselves), with wider input from the communities of interest in which Newcastle is a part.

The purpose of IRT would be to:

  • Improve the quality of our research and thereby enhance our reputation.
  • Develop a common understanding and collegial approach to improving research.
  • Establish Newcastle University’s distinct reputation as having an enviably supportive and non-coercive culture, thereby attracting and retaining the best staff.Indeed, recognising the existing concentration of expertise on HE reform in our institution, such a ‘Newcastle Model’ could ultimately serve as an inspiration for universities around the UK.


We propose that IRT would be developed over eight phases between July 2016 and January 2017:

1) July 21 2016: An outline will be offered for discussion before the whole university community at a grand forum (hosted by the VC and UCU). Following this, a steering committee will be formed to guide this process. It would include representatives of the Executive Board, the UCU, the Student Union, the Professoriate, and other relevant bodies identified at the grand forum.

2) JULY 25 – SEPTEMBER 30: The steering committee would commission a study of the scholarly evidence in relevant literatures such as university management and outcomes-based performance management in the public and higher education sectors. This study will be undertaken by a group of Newcastle University scholars with research records on this topic.

3) 9 SEPTEMBER– 28 OCTOBER: The steering committee will run a series of unit-level meetings across the University. These will take place at existing subject, school and research unit levels, and in sessions convened by the three societal challenge institutes. The essential question will be: how can we improve our research? This will be broken down into other questions:

  • How can outputs be turned into 3* and 4* publications? What are successful parts of the University already doing or proposing to achieve this? For example, ‘front-loaded’ IQA used in ECLS and ‘communities of learning’ being developed in the Business School, which focus on improving outputs before publication.
  • How can we create research environments conducive to fostering the best research?
  • How can we be seen to perform well in flawed auditing exercises such as the REF without abandoning the historic vision of universities?
  • How can we ensure that equality and diversity are embedded in the research culture?
  • How can we attract and support postgraduate researchers?
  • How can we better harness the knowledge, experience and skills of colleagues on research-only or ‘teaching and scholarship’ contracts?
  • How can we be more successful at getting grants for those projects that require significant funding?
  • How can we attract and retain the best staff by improving the reputation of Newcastle University?
  • Where relevant, as a civic university, how can we ensure our research makes more of a difference to society?
  • How can we assist academics to improve their research, whilst protecting the autonomy that is crucial for creative thought?

Written submissions will also be accepted.

5) 31 OCTOBER – 18 NOVEMBER:  Interim conclusions and recommendations will be drafted by the steering committee, and released to the university community for comment.

6) Week beginning 28 NOVEMBER: an ‘expert hearing’ will be held. Leading scholars who have reflected on the place of the modern university and who are friends of the University due to having received honorary degrees, offered visiting lectures, and having established research links with the University, will be invited to reflect in an open, public forum on the steering committee’s finding and proposals.

7) 16 DECEMBER: Second draft of findings and recommendations released to University community for comment, and subjected to an equality and diversity impact assessment.

8) JANUARY 2017. Final report and recommendations released. Appropriate mechanism to be decided upon to approve them so that ownership is taken by the University’s whole scholarly community.

This is an outline proposal, created with input from scholars across all faculties, to begin a process of collegial dialogue, and would be subject to modification.

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1 Response to Improving Research Together

  1. Prof. Philip Harris says:

    An excellent and constructive proposal from the unions.

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