6. Staff profile
Current research and development strengths within OUCS are in Arts and Humanities computing, e-learning, podcasting, digital repositories, encryption, and text encoding – to name but a few. The OUCS Research facilitator will be keeping a list of all ongoing projects (and recently completed ones) (Recommendation 3). The key strengths in IT service provision within OUCS are infrastructure, virtualisation, security, networks, requirements engineering, user services, evaluation, services support, back-up provision, web design and internet usage. It is essential that the staff and the skill mix within OUCS are adequate to sustain the goals of the research strategy over the next three years (Recommendation 2). Relevant staff should receive training in research methods and processes and listing of these staff members’ research interests would streamline communication to them of specific funding calls for funding. Linking the research and development strengths with these service provision strengths gives a wide range of present and potential research areas. These represent practical research and development projects rather than pure academic research (as stated in the introduction), and include piloting of potential new services and work on the research life cycle. Against this though we must recognise two things:
- There are areas where OUCS has difficulties in recruitment; these include certain programming and software areas, high-level system management and systems analysis, project management roles and senior analyst/developer posts. In other areas Oxford’s reputation is an advantage in recruitment.
- As staff have high workloads, present staff members have little flexibility and few opportunities for doing research as their time is heavily committed.
In order to expand the research capacity and capability, resources and specific skills are needed. However given the current financial climate this may not be easy to achieve, and realistic responses to this situation will need to be developed. OUCS needs to examine staff development to identify and develop appropriate competencies and to maximise employee engagement, as these specialist needs are hard to fill. OUCS has good policies, excellent service conditions, job security and a supportive community, but these need promoting to potential staff. This might involve secondment to projects on a short-term basis.
Given the current financial situation and these recruitment problems, it might be useful to maintain a register of IT proficient consultants who could provide short-term assistance or specific skills, e.g. in programming or analysis (Recommendations 7 and 8). Using consultants has benefits in short term commitments, immediate project starts, no long term expenditure, and flexibility in who is recruited. However, the disadvantages are that there is little skill development within OUCS, the knowledge gained remains external to the department, consultants can be expensive and there is no comeback if there are problems. The consultant database should include external, corporate consultants, ITSS members willing to be seconded (short term), and others, e.g. postgraduate students with industry experience and KTP associates. ITSS could take a lead on this and offer this as a service for OUCS and the ITSS community, e.g. for annual leave cover, leave of absence, specific projects etc.
Many of the projects run at OUCS are staffed by dedicated contract research officers. These research officers are career researchers and frequently work on more than one project, or a succession of projects, but are often on fixed term contracts. As OUCS recognises the value of these experienced researchers and takes the responsibility for their appropriate training needs seriously, identifying opportunities to advance their experience and career need to be made, which would also increase their value to the department. OUCS is keen to develop career structures for contract researchers and to facilitate their movement to another University post at the end of their contracts. Linking these contract researchers to the consultants regis ter may allow a wider range of potential opportunities.
The research facilitator’s role is to inform and liaise with groups within the University. Part of this role is in encouraging a research community within the department and externally to the rest of the University. Links have already been established and need to be stre ngthened with other departments, for example: OeRC, OII, OLI, Education, and the Computing Lab. Sharing information on seminars, projects, joint funding initiatives and research bids continue to be supported across the University. These links may benefit from more formal relationships by shared seminar series, information on new events and representation on research committees or research meetings.