Universities lead project to deliver largest ever investment into HE technicians

  • University technicians to be recognised through new TALENT programme
  • Technicians to benefit from comprehensive training package and support to create a culture change
  • Technical Talent of the Future to investigate the skills and talent needed to support future research and teaching

A new project led by a consortium of eight Midlands-based universities and industry partners - including Aston University - is to shine a light on the expertise of their technical community by delivering a package of measures to support their career advancement and development.

Midlands Innovation’s £4.99 million TALENT programme is the largest ever investment into technicians in higher education, whose specialist skills often go unrecognised despite the crucial role they play in the success of universities and the growth of the UK economy.

As a highly skilled workforce, around 30,000 technicians currently underpin research, teaching, knowledge transfer and innovation at UK universities and many are researchers and educators in their own right, teaching and training students and researchers at every level.

Announcing the programme, Science Minister, Amanda Solloway MP said: “Technicians play a vital role across our universities, research centres and industry sectors. It is great to see that Midlands Innovation is leading the way in supporting technicians who work so hard across the UK to teach students and underpin innovation.”

Professor Alec Cameron, Chair of the Midlands Innovation Board, Vice-Chancellor Aston University said: “I am delighted that Midlands Innovation has been awarded this investment. TALENT will shine a light on the important role that technicians play in our universities and will enable us to deliver a step change in the career development opportunities we provide to this vital workforce.

“In addition, TALENT is an excellent example of how universities can collaborate to innovate in their operation. Collectively we have over 2100 technicians working in our eight universities. We will be sharing information on the nature of our technical workforces, collaborating to create new development opportunities for our technical staff and trialling interventions to address issues such as EDI and representation of technicians. By doing this in partnership we can share different approaches and experiences whilst creating a vibrant, connected and empowered technical community.”

TALENT is underpinned by a grant of more than £3 million from the Research England Development Fund. The rest of the funding will be provided by the consortium university members as well as key partners including the Science Council, Technician Commitment, Wellcome Trust, British Geological Survey, Rolls Royce plc, Unilever and Midlands Engine.

Jiteen Ahmed, Technical Services Manager, Aston University said: "I think it’s fantastic that Midlands Innovations have secured the grant for MI TALENT. The project will support our technical colleagues with an aim to deliver change in culture, raise the profile of our technical staff and support their career development. Aston University is a proud supporter of the Technician Commitment and is proud to support our fantastic technical colleagues."

The four-year project is being led by Kelly Vere, Director of Technical Skills and Strategy, at The University of Nottingham who said: “Advances in research and innovation are a team effort. Technicians are vital members of these teams but have been described as the ‘invisible workforce’ and across the country we have an identified shortage of technical skills and roles. The sector lacks effective understanding of the role of technicians and strategic insight into future technical skills requirements.

“Through our collaborative programme TALENT, we’ll be generating new insight and knowledge on future sector skills requirements, investing in the development of our technical community and tackling the cultural challenges facing technicians. We’re thrilled to be working collaboratively with a number of partners on the TALENT programme, all committed to ensuring status and opportunity for the technical community”. 

TALENT builds on considerable work already undertaken by Midland Innovation to advance the technician agenda, including the signing of the Technician Commitment by all consortium institutions in 2017, the establishment of the UK Higher Education Technicians Summit; a national conference for technical staff working in higher education and research, and the Papin Prizes, a series of awards to publicly recognise technical excellence in academia, as well as piloting a collaborative placement programme to enable career development opportunities for our technical staff.

Research England’s Director of Research, Steven Hill, said: “Technicians are an understudied group in higher education, which means there is a real gap in our understanding of both their role and future skills requirements. We also know there is a growing shortage of technicians across all sectors, but these technicians are a vital workforce, the absence of which threatens the UK’s innovative strength and global competitiveness.”

TALENT will lead and promote change to enhance the status and development opportunities of technicians through three main themes:

Technical Talent of the Future will use a commission-based approach to investigate the technical skills and talent needed to support future research and teaching in the UK. It will gather evidence from a range of stakeholders including technicians, academics, university management, funders, students and policymakers before putting together a range of recommendations for the sector that will be used to inform institutional planning, training activities, culture change and the UK Higher Education Technician Summits. The scope of the project will include the sector’s future need for technical talent, government policy implications and the impact of increasing focus on collaboration with business and other researchers.

Technicians as Partners will develop and pilot innovative ways of working to deliver culture change within HE to strengthen technical career opportunities and develop the effectiveness of the technician role within universities. It will encompass projects focusing on challenging the stereotypes around technicians and promoting the attractiveness of a technical career; promoting more diversity in the sector; equipping technicians with the skills they need to improve their presence on executive committees; studying best practice of equipment sharing between technicians; and exploring opportunities for technical knowledge exchange and collaborations with business.

Technical training and Empowerment will deliver a technical training package – both print and digital – with guidance and briefing notes on the creation of placement schemes and exchanges for technical staff, soft skills case studies, lessons learned and recommendations for ways of working. It will also include the establishment of the Technician Led Training Fund, which will offer a pot of cash that collaborative groups of technicians can assess to fund staff development on specific skills gaps.


About Aston University

Founded in 1895 and a University since 1966, Aston is a long established university led by its three main beneficiaries – students, business and the professions, and our region and society. Aston University is located in Birmingham and at the heart of a vibrant city and the campus houses all the university’s academic, social and accommodation facilities for our students. Professor Alec Cameron is the Vice-Chancellor & Chief Executive.

For media inquiries in relation to this release, call Rebecca Hume, Press & PR Officer,
on 0121 204 5159 or email r.hume@aston.ac.uk

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The University of Nottingham is a research-intensive university with a proud heritage, consistently ranked among the world's top 100. Studying at the University of Nottingham is a life-changing experience and we pride ourselves on unlocking the potential of our 44,000 students - Nottingham was named both Sports and International University of the Year in the 2019 Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide, was awarded gold in the TEF 2017 and features in the top 25 of all three major UK rankings. We have a pioneering spirit, expressed in the vision of our founder Sir Jesse Boot, which has seen us lead the way in establishing campuses in China and Malaysia - part of a globally connected network of education, research and industrial engagement. We are ranked eighth for research power in the UK according to REF 2014. We have six beacons of research excellence helping to transform lives and change the world; we are also a major employer and industry partner - locally and globally.


Midlands Innovation is a world-class research and innovation partnership, combining the collective excellence of eight leading universities in the heart of the UK – Aston, Birmingham, Cranfield, Keele, Leicester, Loughborough, Nottingham and Warwick. It unites the power of university research with the unique strengths of Midlands industry to drive cutting-edge research, innovation and skills development.

 www.midlandsinnovation.org.uk

Research England shapes healthy, dynamic research and knowledge exchange in English universities. It distributes over £2.2bn to universities in England every year; works to understand their strategies, capabilities and capacity; and supports and challenges universities to create new knowledge, strengthen the economy, and enrich society. Research England is part of UK Research and Innovation alongside the seven Research Councils and Innovate UK. www.ukri.org/re, @ResEngland