A Technician Lens

New report shines light on challenges facing technicians in Higher Education

A new report from the University of Nottingham highlights the equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) challenges facing technicians working in higher education (HE).

The report – Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI): A Technician Lenswas launched on 14th November at the STEMM-CHANGE annual conference at the Royal Society of Chemistry, as part of 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).

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

The report found;

  • 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, providing support which is essential for research and teaching and many are researchers and teachers in their own right.

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.

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

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&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.”

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.

A full copy of the report can be found here.