New report shines light on challenges faced by technicians working in higher education

A new report supported by the Technician Commitment highlights the equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) challenges facing technicians working in higher education.

For the first time, using quantitative data and qualitative findings from national workshops and presentations, the new report from the University of Nottingham identifies key EDI challenges and makes recommendations to institutions to advance equality for everyone working in the sector.

The report - ‘Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI): A Technician Lens’ - is launched today (14 November) at the STEMM-CHANGE annual conference at the Royal Society of Chemistry.

The report found that:

The majority of technicians are male (58%)

In both physics and engineering only 11% of technicians are female

There is a general decline in the number of female technicians from the age of 30

The majority of technicians with managerial positions are male, even in subject disciplines where the majority of technicians are female

Just 10% of technicians are of BAME ethnicity

30% of technicians are over the age of 51, reflecting reports that the technical community is ageing with large numbers of skilled technicians retiring every year, taking their skills and experience with them

In physics and engineering 45% of technicians are over 51

Many technical staff were unaware of the EDI challenges they faced within their own community, and were unfamiliar with initiatives such as the Athena Swan and Race Equality Charters.

The technical community is critical to the success of the UK’s HE sector. They provide support which is essential for research and teaching and many are researchers and teachers in their own right.

Historically, initiatives to advance EDI in HE have focused on academic and research staff, however the expansion of the Athena Swan Charter to include professional and support staff has ignited a greater interest in EDI of non-academic staff groups, such as technicians.

Technician roles are being increasingly recognised through the Technician Commitment – a sector-wide initiative to ensure visibility, recognition, career development and sustainability of technical skills and roles within UK HE and research.

STEMM-CHANGE is an EPSRC-funded Inclusion Matters project aiming to drive a positive change in culture and practices in EDI across Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Medicine (STEMM).

STEMM-CHANGE has been working with Technician Commitment signatories, the University of Liverpool and the John Innes Centre, and the Science Council, to highlight and address EDI challenges facing the technical community.

Kelly Vere, Director of Technical Skills & Strategy at the University of Nottingham and Technician Commitment lead, said: “Technicians are vital to universities and research institutes. Our report offers the first step to understanding and improving EDI in the technical community in UK higher education. By working together to increase awareness and recognition of EDI challenges, and by designing and implementing interventions to address them, we can advance equality, diversity and inclusion for all.”

Recommendations include:

Ensuring EDI initiatives, both sector and institutional, are inclusive of technical roles

Better succession planning to avoid losing skills as technical staff head towards retirement

More support for female and BAME technicians wanting to move into leadership and management roles

The promotion of outreach activities aimed at encouraging people from a wider range of backgrounds into technical careers

More investment in needed in apprenticeship and trainee technician programmes to ensure succession of technical talent

Professor Sam Kingman, Pro-Vice Chancellor for the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Nottingham, and PI on the STEMM-CHANGE project, said: “Technicians are vital to the future success of all of our universities. They underpin the high quality education we deliver to our students and the innovative research we are delivering to address the future challenges of society. Our EPSRC funded STEMM-CHANGE project is designed to put in place a toolbox of real solutions to a number of ED and I challenges across the STEMM sector and I am delighted we are able now to make a number of recommendations which we hope will help address some serious issues in our Technician community.”

A full copy of the report can be found here.

The report found that many technical staff are unaware of the EDI challenges they faced within their own community

Our recommendations include ensuring initiatives are inclusive of technical roles

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