Engaging in the HRS4R labelling process

The University of Caen Normandie has decided to apply for the “Human Resources Strategy for Researchers” (HRS4R) label, commonly known as the Stratégie Européenne de Ressources Humaines pour les Chercheurs. All relevant bodies were consulted on the project, and the Board of Directors granted its approval on March 11, 2022.

The “HR Excellence in Research” label was created by the European Commission in 2008. This label provides added value in terms of European and international attractiveness to institutions committed to continuously improving their HR strategy for researchers.

This approach is grounded in a self-diagnosis of our practices and the formulation of an action plan for their improvement. In practical terms, this entails assessing our practices against the 40 principles outlined in the European Charter for Researchers and the Code of Conduct for the Recruitment of Researchers (C&C) established in 2005. These 40 principles are categorised into 4 main areas: “ethical and professional aspects”, “recruitment”, “working conditions and safety” and “training and professional development”.

Consult the European Charter for Researchers & the Code of Conduct for their Recruitment

For the university

  • To suggest ways of thinking at the institutional level about issues that affect the careers of those involved in research, their activities, and their ecosystems.
  • To develop HR policies and practices based on the expectations and proposals of those involved in research.
  • To promote what is already being done within the university (open science, SAPS, integrity advisors, VPs for equality, parity, and civic life, etc.).
  • To raise the profile and attractiveness of the institution

For those involved in research

  • To engage in a process that directly concerns researchers through collaborative self-assessment leading to improvements based on their suggestions and expectations
  • To enable researchers to meet the requirements of various institutions or programmes (European project calls, ANR, HCERES evaluation, etc.) by implementing actions to assist them in these processes.
  • To commit to continuous improvement for those involved in research by proposing a 2 to 5-year action plan that allows them to plan for the future.

Joining the institutions that have already received the label

At a time when the number of applications for accreditation is steadily increasing, it is also a question of joining the 692 European institutions that have already been granted the HRS4R label (as of 31/08/2023), and in particular the 62 French institutions, including the CNRS, INSERM and INRAE, as well as 35 universities. Closer to us, at the COMUE level, the goal is to join INSA Rouen, which received the label in 2017 and the University of Rouen Normandie, accredited on July 24 (the University of Le Havre Normandie has already submitted its letter of commitment in 2021 and is expected to be granted the label in 2022).

The European Commission defines researchers as “all individuals professionally engaged in research and innovation at any stage of their career, regardless of their classification”. Therefore, the term “researchers” can be translated as the generic term “research actors” or “scientific community”, encompassing engineers, administrative staff, social and health services, providing support or assistance for research, doctoral students, post-doctoral students, temporary lecturers and research assistants, researchers, teachers, and lecturers. The European Commission categorises these “research actors” into 4 categories (R1 to R4), and it is essential to ensure their representation throughout the process.

This means that the research actors, whether tenured or on contract, are at the core of the procedure, as the self-assessment must rely on their evaluation of the current situation and the action plan must follow their suggestions.

The University of Caen Normandie must initially submit a letter of commitment to the European Commission, expressing its intention to adhere to the principles outlined in the charter and code, and to engage in the labelling process. We submitted our letter of commitment on November 8, 2022, and it was promptly accepted by the European Commission. Subsequently, the university has a 12-month period to conduct a self-assessment of its practices (identifying strengths, weaknesses, and gaps) in relation to the 40 principles of the charter and code, and to formulate a plan of action according to its findings.

Read the university’s letter of commitment

This plan must propose concrete short- and medium-term improvement actions, tailored to the university’s challenges and needs, and consistent with the self-assessment carried out and the institution’s strategy.

Once the application has been submitted to the European Commission, no later than November 8, 2023, it will be reviewed by 3 foreign experts from the scientific community.

The label is awarded for 5 years, and UNICAEN must implement the action plan it has defined within 2 to 5 years. 24 months after the label is awarded, the European Commission conducts an interim evaluation (without calling the label into question) during which the experts ensure that the initially planned actions are indeed being implemented and provide feedback.

The European Commission does not impose any predefined methodology but lays out guiding principles, including the necessity of a participative and collaborative approach involving research actors, and a structured and tangible action plan. The university has proceeded with the following stages:

Stage 1: Consultation with the institution’s governing bodies (January-June 2022): Presentation of the approach and discussions regarding the process.

Stage 2: Between July and September 2022, the university initiated an extensive survey involving all research actors through two questionnaires: one focusing on “ethical and professional aspects” and the other on “human resources in research”.

Consult the results of the questionnaires

Stage 3: A webinar, open to all, was conducted on December 5, 2022, to present the process and the questionnaire results. During this webinar, the roles of the working groups were clarified, and any questions that might have arisen from the process were addressed.

View the slideshow presentation of the webinar on December 5, 2022

View the recording of the webinar

Stage 4: From January to March 2023, 4 thematic working groups, composed of volunteer members from the scientific community, convened to conduct the diagnosis and suggest improvement actions. Each working group met 3 times, and a feedback working group, comprising representatives from all groups, was established on April 13th. A preliminary action plan was formulated based on these recommendations.

The 4 working themes selected were:

  • Ethics, integrity, open science and commitment to society
  • Recruitment (permanent and contract staff)
  • Organisation and working conditions (prevention, health, safety / non-discrimination, disability / support for research)
  • Training, professional mobility, career development and research supervision.

HRS4R action plan

Stage 5: Research actors were consulted in June 2023. They were asked to prioritise the improvements identified by the working groups.

Consult the prioritisation of  improvement actions

Stage 6: The action plan, consisting of 39 actions and 105 sub-actions, along with the entire dossier, was presented to the CAC on June 27, to the CSAE on June 29, and ultimately to the Board of Directors on July 11. The entire dossier received unanimous approval from the Board.

View the slideshow presented to the bodies: Process Review, Work Group Findings, and Action Plan

Stage 7: The complete dossier was submitted to the European Commission on July 22.

This process involves:

  • steering committee: Composed of representatives from the university, its governing bodies, and various categories of research actors, the steering committee is in charge of proposing strategies, overseeing and ensuring the smooth execution of the process, suggesting guidelines, and approving the action plan before it is submitted to the governing bodies.
  • coordination committee: Composed of representatives from the university (Chairman, VP, DGS) and the directors of the relevant departments, the coordination committee oversees the project’s methodology and timeline, as well as ensuring its alignment with the institution’s strategies.
  • An operational committee: Composed of 9 individuals (VP Research, VP Human Resources, VP International Development, Partnership Research, Director General of Services, Director of Research and Innovation, Director of Human Resources, Deputy Director of Human Resources, HRS4R project manager), this committee is responsible for the practical implementation of the steering committee’s directives and for coordinating the procedure. It acts as a liaison between the steering committee and the work groups.
  • Thematic work groups: Composed of volunteers from the research community, the primary role of these work groups is to conduct a self-assessment based on the questionnaire results and to formulate improvement proposals for the institution’s action plan. The themes attributed to the work groups will be determined based on the questionnaire results and the institution’s priorities.
  • Colleagues from various departments and divisions who are experts in the Charter and Code will be invited to participate in the various work groups and may be consulted throughout the process by the various bodies involved.