Case Study

University of Nottingham Ningbo China

Interview conducted 29 October, 2020  Compare case studies

The University of Nottingham is a global university, with campuses in the United Kingdom, the People’s Republic of China, and Malaysia. In 2019, the University of Nottingham Ningbo China (UNNC) signed DORA and committed to the implementation of DORA principles through the establishment of an Implementation Task Force. Change was stimulated in part by the desire to emphasize the values-driven culture at UNNC. The dynamic of change at UNNC is a combination of top-down (i.e., university management) and bottom-up (i.e., Library, faculty, and research staff), but with each dynamic taking over periodically, rather than occurring simultaneously. The university is analyzing current practices for alignment with DORA principles and developing recommendations for change through formal consultations across all relevant institutional stakeholders, including departmental faculties, the Library, and Human Resources.

Who: Organization profile

Country China
Profile of institution comprehensive university or equivalent
Number of FTE researchers 500-1,000
Organization of research evaluation faculty/department levelsInstitutional/university levelresearch unit levels
Who is involved? academic leadershipacademic researcherslibrary staff

What: What changed and the key elements of change

The University of Nottingham is a global university, with campuses in the United Kingdom, the People’s Republic of China, and Malaysia. In 2019, the University of Nottingham Ningbo China (UNNC) signed DORA and committed to fair and responsible research assessment practices through its establishment of an Implementation Task Force for DORA.

The main goal of this task force is to make recommendations to the Research and Knowledge Exchange Committee and Management Board to ensure responsible research assessment indicators are reflected in relevant university processes and activities, and to raise awareness of DORA and its principles. Other functions of the task force include establishing a process for the ongoing embedding and tracking of DORA’s principles in recruitment and academic promotion.

Why: Motivation for change

Internal and external drivers motivated the adoption of DORA recommendations and formation of the Implementation Task Force. Internal drivers are rooted in the values-driven culture at UNNC, which aligns with DORA principles. The Implementation Task Force expressed a desire to promote a university culture with particular focus on research quality, impact, leadership, teaching and learning, and responsible authorship practices.

External drivers included DORA (2013)1, the Leiden Manifesto (2015)2, and Metric Tide (2015)3, and the increasing global discussion on the problematic use of publication-based proxy indicators for academic assessment.

Another motivation was to increase institutional visibility and momentum for change, consistent with University of Nottingham’s Global People Strategy 2020.4 There was an opportunity for UNNC to be the first university in China to sign DORA. UNNC’s signature demonstrates their commitment to international best practices in research assessment.

How: Processes and dynamics for developing, implementing and managing change

The dynamic of change at UNNC is both top-down (i.e., university management) and bottom-up (i.e., Library, faculty, and research staff), but with each dynamic taking over periodically, rather than occurring simultaneously (e.g., a rollercoaster-like dynamic). The advantage of this dynamic is the genuine buy-in at all levels, facilitating broad support for advocacy.

A major obstacle was the diversity of schools within the university, and the difference in reliance on publication-based proxy indicators for assessment (e.g., international business school assessments). Informal consultation about assessment started with the Library, which led workshops convening representatives from Professional Services (Strategy and Planning, The Library, Human Resources, Research Office, Faculty administration), and Faculties (Research and Knowledge Exchange Committee, Research Ethics Committee).

Because the Library is perceived as a neutral body on campus at UNNC, it was ideally situated for the outreach and coalition building that is needed to establish support for change across university faculties. Furthermore, the neutrality of the Library fostered the dual leverage of institutional and subject-matter expertise in bibliometrics, which was critical for establishing credibility.

A formal consultation process followed after sufficient time for Library-led advocacy efforts to establish a broad institutional buy-in. As such, the Library then proposed the creation of an Implementation Task Force. The task force was formed under the authority of the Vice Provost for Research and staffed by members of the Research and Knowledge Exchange Committee, principally the Faculty Directors of Research.

The task force then decentralized the process to each of the three faculties (Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Science and Engineering, Faculty of Business). Faculty directors consulted each faculty body to analyze current practices for alignment with DORA. Internal reports were created for each faculty with recommendations for change. This formal consultation with the faculties identified three key areas of interest: promotions, recruitment, and performance review. Each of the faculties have produced specific recommendations for these areas. The general implementations suggested promote more diverse and holistic academic assessment. While some of the recommendations are being put in practice, others require further consultation with Human Resources before implementation.

The global nature of University of Nottingham is of critical importance; internal discussions at UNNC regarding assessment reform are being held within the larger context of the global university. This context includes the United Kingdom’s Research Excellence Framework (REF), a national instrument where research income is closely tied to the rigorous assessment of the research of higher education institutions within the United Kingdom.

Specific obstacles faced were: limited awareness of research assessment reform and its potential benefits; lack of evidence on potential benefits of research assessment reform; resistance to reform from academic leadership; resistance to research assessment reform from researchers; lack of institutional capacity (e.g., skilled staff, support structures); lack of coordination among the relevant actors within the institution; absence of incentivizing policies or guidelines from external actors (e.g., national/regional governments, research funding organizations); alignment of institutional assessment procedures with nationally and internationally dominant procedures; and lack of institutional autonomy due to national/regional rules and regulations.

When: Timeline for development and implementation

The seven research councils in the United Kingdom signed DORA in February 2018, followed by a number of other UK institutions, notably the University of Nottingham.

In September 2018, the Library delivered two workshops at UNNC. Informal consultation with institutional stakeholders began.

The Library submitted recommendations to the University’s Management Board in December 2018 to sign DORA and to establish a working group. In June 2019 the UNNC Management Board approved the creation of a local Research Assessment task force with the support of the Vice Provost for Research.

Faculties have analyzed current practices for alignment with DORA and made recommendations for change. Next steps involve formal consultations with Professional Services (Human Resources) on the Faculties’ recommendations.

The Library introduced an informal self-evaluation “DORA Assessment Implementation” checklist in 2020. Formal consultations and implementation of responsible academic assessment efforts are ongoing.

References

  1. The San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA). Retrieved 25 November 2020 from: https://sfdora.wpengine.com/read
  2. Hicks, D., Wouters, P., Waltman, L., de Rijcke, S. & Rafols, I. Bibliometrics: The Leiden Manifesto for research metrics. Nat. News 520, 429 (2015).
  3. Wilsdon, J. et al. The Metric Tide: Report of the Independent Review of the Role of Metrics in Research Assessment and Management. (2015) doi:10.13140/RG.2.1.4929.1363.
  4. Global People Strategy 2020 -The University of Nottingham. Retrieved 25 November 2020 from: https://www.nottingham.ac.uk/hr/global-people-strategy-2020/index.aspx.