March: Funding for technical experts | News and features

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A pioneering new project that will develop the abilities of Research Technical Professionals (RTPs) and support them to build the skills to work with industrial partners to address real-world challenges and opportunities has been awarded £1.97 million.

The funding from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) has been secured by the GW4 Alliance universities of Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter.

RTPs are highly knowledgeable technical experts, with a unique set of skills and specialisms, but often lack both the time and opportunities to pursue tailored professional development. Simultaneously, industry research and development can often be significantly accelerated through access to capabilities and technical expertise in universities, however these links are often missing or hidden within academic research programmes, meaning that many RTPs miss out on the chance to engage with industry directly to showcase and share their expertise.

Greg Kemble, X-CITED Co-Lead and Technical Services Manager at the University of Bristol said: “I look forward to working on the X-CITED programme to develop new and effective approaches to Research Technical Professional training, and continuous professional development. Achieving this, through solving current and pressing challenges, will directly benefit individuals, the project teams they are deployed too and those they originate from.”

Delivered over three years, it is hoped that the X-CITED programme will become a regional demonstrator for new approaches to professional skills development for the sector. The scheme will focus on several core activities, including harnessing talent from across the GW4 universities to create peer networks and Communities of Practice, building a rich research ecosystem and generating a regional knowledge exchange based around key technology specialisms. The innovative programme will also build a mechanism for industrial partners to work with RTPs and progress industry challenges through a series of discussion forums and Industry Challenge Projects, bridging the gap between academia and industry, and delivering real-world impact.

Alongside this, X-CITED will establish a Talent Bank of trainee RTPs, training them in a range of techniques, maximising their engagement in collaborative projects with industry partners, and fostering more diverse pathways into technical careers. The Talent Bank approach will also support existing RTPs to release time for their own professional development, bolstering the resilience and sustainability of university research facilities.

The X-CITED programme is being delivered as part of GW4WARD, an initiative designed to drive forward the professional development of technical staff across GW4. The programme is closely aligned to the GW4 universities’ pledge to the Technician Commitment, which aims to support all Research Technical Professionals across GW4 to gain recognition, visibility, and career development opportunities, and responds to many of the recommendations in the TALENT Commission Report.

GW4 Alliance Director, Dr Joanna Jenkinson MBE, said: “Research Technical Professionals play a critical role in helping to drive forward our research and innovation programmes. We have around 1300 technical staff across our four institutions, often acting as the linchpin in any University department, operating and maintaining facilities and providing valuable expertise and intellectual input to enable high quality teaching and research. The X-CITED programme will allow us to further support the GW4 RTP communities, offering skills development, building links with industry, and demonstrating that the technical competencies present in higher education institutions are both applicable and valuable to the industrial sector.”

X-CITED will form part of a network of 11 Strategic Technical Platforms, funded by EPSRC and UKRI Digital Research Infrastructure (DRI) investment, as part of a £16 million initiative to support strategic investments for systematic support, training and development to promote, enable and empower the RTP community in UK universities.

All 11 projects will benefit from the EPSRC’s extensive experience in supporting research software engineers, data wrangling, facility managers, and equipment specialists, as well as community development.

Jane Nicholson, Research Base Director at EPSRC, said: “Through these 11 new projects, the Strategic Technical Platform funding will help cultivate a thriving, dynamic, and vibrant community of research technicians. This community will not only support and elevate cutting-edge research in the UK, but also foster a sizeable, highly skilled and esteemed research technician network. The UK is a world leader in high-tech research and development and it’s essential that we fully support the full breadth of skills needed for the workforce that deliver this innovation.”

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