Open and future-proof academic systems: “It`s all about people, skills and conditions”

Categories: HRS4R News

HR workshop in Tallinn showed that career development and working conditions for researchers are in limelight in Baltic States even if only one institution from Lithuania is currently committed

On his way from Tartu, the site of the Estonian Ministry for Education and Research, to the HR – workshop in Tallinn, Taivo Raud, Head of the Ministry`s Research Policy Department, was interviewed by “Radio KUKU”. What was so interesting with Human Resources Strategy for Researchers, and what was the current state of play in Estonia, the “KUKU”-reporter wanted to know. Taivo Raud provided a key answer bringing the issue to the point, both for the reporter as well as for the workshop audience: “People are the most important treasure of research. All our efforts will have no effect if we don’t provide good working conditions to them”.

The EU`s Human Resources Strategy for Researchers (HRS4R) is offering a full box of strategic and practical tools to create and shape these supportive working conditions for people in research, and that was precisely the reason why more than 70 research managers from different academic institutions in Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia attended the one-day-workshop on 13 June 2017, which was an event jointly organized by the Estonian Research Council and the European Commission.

So far, only one academic institution in the three Baltic countries, the Lithuanian Sport University in Kaunas, has signed-up for the HRS4R-process with a potential to activate re-orientations of the institutions towards a better managed Higher Education and Research

systems including innovative doctoral skills trainings, internationalization, open and transparent recruitment systems and stable working environments for researchers, including support to Open Science while providing skills training and management insights. These measures altogether are resulting in the award of a quality label for the institution itself, the well-searched “HR-Award for Excellence in Research”. The Award consists of a Trophy and a Graphic icon to be used on all promotional and official documents of the award-holders' institutions.


“It might be a lack of information and a fear of an extra burden besides many ongoing assessments and reporting duties the research managers have already to provide”, Research Policy expert Taivo Raud found as a potential reason for the currently weak commitment from academia in the Baltic countries to the guided and peer-based HR-management programme. To encourage the endorsement of more Baltic institutions to the HR strategy, an Ambassador from the Finnish

University of Tampere which has started the HR-programme already in 2013, was nominated during the workshop. Hanna Heino, HR specialist from Tampere University and newly appointed 'HR Ambassador', will act as a future stand-by with expertise and offering advice the Baltic institutions when requested.

Under the heading “How to best attract talented researchers”, the representative of the Estonian Ministry, Taivo Raud explained the situation of the academic institutions in his country. Though already successfully drawing foreign research staff in the last years, many Estonian institutions may wish to up-grade through the attraction of more talent and doctorate holders from abroad and to also provide qualified workforce to private employers, while offering a range of measures:

  • more stable working contracts (“ temporary contracts should be the exception”)
  • incorporation of the “Charter and Code-Principles” in the scope of renewal of academic careers
  • international mobility grant schemes,
  • centres of excellence and doctoral schools,
  • popularization of research to young people,
  • better cooperation between politics, industry and academia.

This package was announced earlier this year by the Research Ministry, who also for 2018 elaborates on plans entailing a flexibilisation of academic career models. Composed of equal basic standards for all, the more flexible schemes will at the same time allow specific designs for the various disciplines and institutions to offer more customized curricula and careers

capturing temporary needs and reacting to changes. “HR and internationalization will be our benchmarks for the implementation of the new academic models”, Taivo Raud said.


“Mobility and movements offer a forced reality”, highlighted Dr Siret Rutiku, Head of Department of Research Funding in the Estonian Research Council, pointing to the current different recruitment standards in many countries creating uncertainty for many stakeholders. Letting benefit young researchers from the necessary mobility and movements, “without being punished”, the Research Council`s representative encouraged the audience to commit to the HRS4R-programme, not

at least for “reasons of building trust in offering equal principles and ethics” for researchers in a science landscape becoming more and more open.

In the “Charter & Code” documents, the guiding principles underpinning the EU`s HRS4R are to be found. According to Dr Siret Rutiku, “the HR-Strategy should be the right tool to work with these principles”. Nevertheless, she did not leave unnoticed the Estonian situation, that “we are well aware that many, many details still need precision”. As the representative of the Estonian Research Council, she also thanked the EURAXESS network assisting in the processes during the implementing phase.


As a funding manager, Dr Siret Rutiku, reported to the attendees, that HR and Open Science Policy will become ever more important for funding organisations which are widening and flexibilising their programmes towards these issues. An adaption of academic funding to novel needs, the process might be introduced through the gradual reshaping of reward criteria for funding asking not only for the fulfilment of codes, principles

and researchers' rights as employees and salary earners, but also for mobility schemes and internationalization programmes at the institutions.

This was the right moment for the European Commission`s Senior Policy Officer for Open Science and ERA policy, Dr Irmela Brach, to stress the importance of the Article 32 in the current Grant Regulations of HORIZON 2020 Research Framework Programme. These regulations ask as a documented instruction of best efforts at the institutions by fulfilment of Charter & Code principles in the fields of recruitment, working conditions and researchers' career development, recommending the use of the HRS4R implementation procedure.

“It is currently foreseen, that under the future EU-research funding programme FP9 this best-effort article will be kept and that the choice of commitment to the HRS4R scheme might become mandatory for the projects”. The best-effort obligation of the current Article 32 means that beneficiaries be pro-active and should take documented specific steps to address policies and practices of a Charter & Code fulfilment. Explaining consequences of non-compliance to the stipulations in the current Article 32, Dr Brach clearly stated that non-compliance might lead to consequences as stipulated in the project's contract. Discussions referred to this point.


“Should it then be better to wait for the clarifications under FP9 before we decide to step into the process”, one participant asked. Another wanted to know, if the scheduled monitoring phases during three years for the endorsing institutions from the point of sending the letter to the EU Commission might not be too short. “Let`s be on the safe side”, Dr Brach assured the hesitant research managers who are to realize stable funding conditions already under HORIZON 2020. For a coherent process,

Dr Brach recommended to the participants to be “fast and short in order not to lose track”. In case an institution needs more time, an explanation or justification would be required by the EU Commission, and accepted if justified.

Another strong argument for the advantage to join the HRS4R-community already now, may be seen in the future planned alignment of Open-Science-Policy issues into the HRS4R which will possibly be up-dated further. In the future, ERA policy, especially priority 3, the open labour market for researchers, will tackle the first Open Science principles so that “Future Skills in Open Science” will play a prominent role. “It`s for sure that these Open Science policy issues will be included into the HR principles phase by phase”.


The HR managers from the three countries were encouraged to send in their success stories with experiences and testimonials when implementing the HR-strategy: “You will get better visibility for your institutions; your credibility towards the authority will grow”. Also, to utmost attention lead Dr. Brach`s mentioning of best-practice examples in funding institutional HR efforts in research: Innovative policy measures are underway in countries currently designing their EU Structural Funds

to incentivize regions whose research institutions commit to implement HR strategic actions, as it is the case for the Czech Republic, which already took the political decision to devote to HR efforts a double-digit million amount from the Structural Funds.


In his keynote, Justin Synnott, Research Partner at University College Dublin, offered answers to the question: “What are the impacts and benefits of HRS4R for researchers and institutions?” He detailed the strategic chances and organiza-tional developments for the institutions and their research staff. UCD already has started in 2012 to work on the HR strategy. Being an experienced peer reviewer to other academic institutions across

Europe, he pointed out the fact that the HRS4R provides a “coherent and tried-and-tested methodology to bring about change in your organisations”. It also “ensures that supports for the career development of researchers are articulated, prioritised and implemented.” There is “a moral, a political and a financial imperative” to apply the scheme, Justin Synnott said. When participants were worried about the “too many principles which might imply a burden for the institutions”, he advocated taking a flexible approach, to neither “dilute the process, nor being its slave.” Participants should look to their own vision and what they may achieve, he recommended.


Isabelle Halleux, Director responsible for the HR Strategy at the Belgian University of Liege, received a warm applause for her analogy of beer-brewing techniques to the HR strategy with a comparison of starting the process through selective moments with the right choice of the product and its features, the principles, ingredients and tools brought together at the right moments and at the right places.


“Like brewing”, the expert from Liege told the audience, HR strategy is demanding time, is asking for planning from bottom-up and top-down, defining responsibilities, selecting priorities, setting milestones and indicators, and, in the end, “it is choosing the right bottle” to present the product.And, what was the reason of Dr Halleux to choose her keynote wrapped in a funny story, supported by images? “Estonia and Belgium both have old brewing traditions, so I think I was understood” she said.


Top tips from a Baltic institution, which is already implementing its Strategy, since having received the HR Award in 2016, were offered with a testimonial note from Inga Staskeviciute-Butiene, Head of the Office of Personnel and Law, Lithuanian Sports University in Kaunas. With the duty of recruiting excellence across many disciplines to the Sports Faculties, ranging from sports medicine, paediatrics or social sciences, the institution in Kaunas, decided to embark in the process “as a challenge

and to receive new ideas for a necessary HR approach,” the Lithuanian HR expert said. The Kaunas Sports University has for example developed an annual evaluation system for academic staff and has started to invest in students in all cycles of their study, complemented by a social media and communication campaign.


The HR workshop in Tallinn, which was organized in the TALLINK Spa & Conference Hotel, was completed by a presentation of Veronica Cesco from the European Commission on RESAVER, a novel pension scheme in the European Research Area. After talks with rectors and staff organizations of Tallinn universities and from research organizations earlier the same day, her presentation at the workshop aimed at informing the research managers of the three Baltic countries on the opportunities of the RESAVER pension fund “which

offers a solution for mobile researchers” in terms of pension portability from country to country while ensuring basic entitlements at the end of a mobile researcher`s career across borders.


In three years from now, the pension fund is counting on the participation of 40 institutions from 9 countries. Many top-level international organisations are interested in joining RESAVER, which will be also complemented by an insurance pillar for researchers without employment contracts. To resume, Taivo Raud from the Estonian Ministry of Education and Research, has assessed the overall workshop an “important opportunity to make our institutions aware of the needs, opportunities and challenges to be better prepared for the future.”


Three quick questions to the HR – Ambassador for Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia




Hanna Heino

Tampere University



Hanna, what will be your first action to assist the Baltic academic institutions in endorsing and committing to the HR Strategy?

Hanna Heino: I am really looking forward as a newly appointed HR Ambassador to participate in the specialist webinar trainings and mutual learning workshops of the pan-European HR peers in order to enhance my knowledge and experience which I then will pass on to the benefit of the academic institutions in the Baltic countries.

Could you describe some of the advantages of your university since the HR-Award was granted?

Hanna Heino: The entire process was a good reminder for us to focus more on skills trainings and to listen better to the needs of researchers. We also organized workshops for international and foreign scientists in Tampere which received through the HRS4R managers` efforts a public voice. For the first time work environment-related workshops for them were held in English language with a result that their needs became visible. For example, they asked for a better coverage in the social media, more training and visibility.

In your opinion, what could be the hurdles for the Baltic institutions to go for the opportunity offered by the EU HR-community?

Hanna Heino: As everywhere, the research managers need to persuade their institution`s top-management to buy in. Additionally, financial issues might be a hurdle. Therefore, an innovative design of EU Structural Funds to open these up for regions with HR-applicants in academia might be a very good idea.


Hanna Heino, Tampere, has studied languages and holds a Master degree in Administration. She has studied in Finland, France and has worked in Brussels. Hanna is specialist for international staff at the joint HR-office of both Tampere Universities and at the EURAXESS office.