Research office leaders say funding and societal impact are biggest priorities

A new global survey captures community challenges and views on the future of research

A new report from Research ProfessionalTM News, an editorially independent part of ClarivateTM, explores the key priorities, challenges and drivers of change for academic research offices. Based on a global survey of more than 1,600 research office staff and researchers, Research Offices of the Future provides a comprehensive snapshot of the current state of research offices and their relationship with researchers. It also suggests ways in which research services may need to adapt in the future. The common threads throughout the report point to research offices playing a vital role in their institutions, supporting time-poor academics, and often doing it with a lean staff.

Research office respondents reported a variety of pressing challenges, primarily in meeting rising pressures to obtain funding and demonstrating research impact.

Root causes of funding challenges

The report suggests root causes of funding challenges are often related to time pressures from expanding duties on limited staff and increasing bureaucracy in grant application processes. However, the most frequently mentioned challenge was ensuring effective engagement between researchers and the research office. Improving relationships with researchers was viewed as a priority, in part to address what some research office leaders mentioned was the lack of understanding of the pressures on research office staff and the complexities of their role. For example, a U.K. research development leader described “limited awareness and understanding of the quality threshold needed to win funding and the time it takes to write proposals of this level. A lot of time is wasted on proposals that are never going to win funding.”

Responses from researchers indicated that their expectations of the research office were in sourcing and accessing funding opportunities, as well as supporting their proposal submissions.

Overall, researcher respondents were significantly more likely to be satisfied with the support they received from their research office team than they were to express dissatisfaction.

Role of AI

Looking to the future, research office respondents saw AI-powered tools as possible solutions to help with compiling information for grant applications and analyzing unsuccessful grant bids, which would enable staff to streamline processes and more effectively focus efforts. However, AI was not seen as one of the most important drivers of change in their institutions’ research operations. Cost pressures were viewed by more than half of research office respondents as the key driver of change, with many universities having to cope with rising teaching and research costs without corresponding budget increases.

Value of publications and citations as research impact indicators

Demonstrating research impact was also noted as a change driver. While researchers and research office staff currently view publications and citations as key indicators of impact, they diverged in their view of the future. Researchers saw publications and citations remaining the most significant indicators, but research office staff saw their importance waning over time, with measures of impact on socioeconomic development, DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion), and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) growing in importance. Respondents also noted these broader impacts are the most difficult to measure.

Upholding research integrity

Of course, all impact has at its heart the quality of the research itself. Maintaining the integrity of research outputs is a community challenge, and the report suggests that many research offices are playing an active role. Over half of respondents report they’ve developed research integrity policies (63%) and facilitated training for researchers (64%). Yet one in 10 could not identify any measure their office is taking in this area. Given the staffing challenges noted in the report, providing such services may be beyond the current capacity of smaller offices.

Research Offices of the Future is part of the larger initiative at Clarivate to uncover and solve pressing challenges facing research offices around the world. Clarivate has also created a research council comprised of leaders at top research institutions from across the globe that aims to bridge the gap between theoretical and tangible solutions.

Download and read Research Offices of the Future.