On a daily basis I meet researchers and discuss potential funding opportunities that might support their work. Something that regularly comes up is funding to support travel to build international networks. The European Cooperation in Science and Technology (COST) is one such mechanism. COST is an EU funded programme that enables researchers to establish interdisciplinary research networks in Europe. COST Action TN1302: BESTPRAC The voice of research administrators is a European network of research support staff.
Given the increasing need for external research funding the role of research support staff in universities is gaining increased importance. As research support staff we must aim to enhance the delivery of our services in line with the changing needs of university faculty. The BESTPRAC network aims to promote a better and more consistent administration of transnational research projects, thereby supporting excellence in research. One of the activities organised by the network are short term scientific missions (STSM) which allow individuals to visit another member institution.
In June 2017, a group STSM was organised by three host universities in the Flanders region of Belgium. I was delighted to be given the opportunity to participate in this STSM. The four day trip (12-16th June) comprised of a welcome day in Brussels at the UK Research Office followed by a day at each host institution Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (KU Leuven), Ghent University (UGent) and the Free University Brussels (Vrije Universiteit Brussel, VUB). During each visit I met with professional colleagues from the EU support team at each institution.
Each visit involved short presentations with plenty of discussion and comparative observations. Topics included organisation of support services, incentives and motivation of researchers to apply for EU funding, legal and financial management pre and post award and technology transfer. My motivation to participate was twofold; to learn about international best practise in research support whilst building my external network and secondly to gain knowledge and insight from highly successful institutions in how they deliver their research support services.
All three institutions are highly successful and have a long history and track record in academic excellence. For example KU Leuven is the oldest and largest of the three institutions with more than 55,000 students. It is currently ranked 40th of the Times Higher Education ranking and their research income from H2020 places them 5th highest academic institution. This success is leveraged from the substantial investment made by the Belgian government in research and innovation (2.45% GDP). This allows Belgian universities to have large internal funding programmes which act as a preparatory mechanism for researchers in ultimately securing external funding. The structure and operation of the research support services at each university was different with most having services centralised in their research office. Some institutions are beginning to add decentralised staff or staff with specialist expertise in priority research areas. The hosts were very interested in my experiences of being based at faculty level and commended this approach as being forward-thinking.
I thoroughly enjoyed my experience and met great colleagues. I was struck by the openness of our hosts and their willingness to share their experiences and best practices. I look forward to continued participation in the BESTPRAC network and incorporating some of the knowledge gained in my role as EHS Research Funding Officer.
Orla-Power Grant is the EHS Research Funding Officer in the PESS Department. View Orla’s Profile here.
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