Blog Viewer

Research Administration Service Centers | Pulse

By SRAI News posted 11-29-2018 12:00 AM


In this issue of the Catalyst, we revisit valuable issues.

Republished from Pulse, June 2016.

Authored by:

Zoya Davis-Hamilton
Associate Vice Provost for Research Administration and Development
Tufts University

Sarah Marina
Assistant Director for Research Administration and Development
Tufts University


A growing number of organizations have transitioned or are transitioning to a research administration service center model. This is a part of an overall movement toward greater efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and consistency of service quality in recent years. Service centers operate as an expansion of central research administration, effectively taking on pre- and post-award work that had traditionally been done at the department level. This month we wanted to glean insights from those institutions that transitioned, are in the process of transitioning, or have considered transitioning local research administration support to such service or support centers.

Research administration service centers (sometimes referred to as shared support centers) are typically implemented via centralization and standardization of research administration services that have been previously performed by school/department administrators. Curious about how the transition to a research administration service center affects pre-award and post-award support to investigators, we posed an anonymous survey to the subscribers to RESADM-L listserv. We presented survey respondents with three demographic questions, followed by a question on whether the respondent’s institution has transitioned, is in the process of transitioning, or is considering a research administration service center. Those who answered “None of the above” were taken to the end of the survey. All other survey participants were asked two questions regarding the impact of the transition on support to investigators.

The survey was open May 9-23, 2016 and collected 94 complete responses. Below, we share what we have learned from our colleagues.

Survey Participants

We asked the survey participants to identify geographic area of their work location. Responses were distributed fairly evenly between the four geographic sections defined by SRAI.

June2016_pulse1.pngThe majority of the survey participants work at a university (80%). Of the remaining 20%, 9% are affiliated with a hospital, 6% with a research institute, and 5% with another type of organization.

Of those working at an institution of higher education, the majority (72%) are employed by a state university, with 28% located at a private non-profit. Of respondents, 21% are a part of a research intensive university, while 5% are located at a primarily undergraduate institution. These categories are not mutually exclusive, and respondents were able to select more than one category.

More than half of respondents’ organizations (61%) are not considering or implementing a transition from local research administration to a centralized shared service center. Our questions about transitioning to a service center were, therefore, answered by the remaining 39% (37 respondents).


Impact on pre-award and post-award support

For those organizations who have or are working toward transitioning to a service center, we asked how the transition has effected (or they predict will affect) pre- and post-award support. Respondents were given the following choices, and were able to pick all that were applicable: increases the amount of support, decreases the amount of support, lowers the quality of support, improves the quality of support, ensures equals access and quality of support to all investigators, does not affect quality of support, and other (this option asked to add an explanation).

Most respondents believe that service centers increase the amount of support in both pre- and post-award areas (pre-award 50%, post-award 32% of respondents), improve its quality (pre-award 50%, post-award 42%), and ensure equal access and quality of support for all investigators (pre-award 56%, post-award 48%). However, a large minority of respondents are of the opinion that transition to the service centers decreases the amount of support (pre-award 21%, post-award 23% of responses) and lowers the quality of support (pre-award 18%, post-award 29%). This difference of option between positive and negative views of service centers is representative of what we have heard from community members at organizations that have made the transition, with success stories tempered by less successful examples.

Comments noted that an additional benefit of service centers is improved compliance, and that the outcome of service centers depends on whether these shared serviced are adequately staffed so that “there are enough research administrators to support investigators,” as well as whether the administrators are “adequate.” Other comments point out that service centers “eliminate the possibility of valuable informal encounters in the hallway.” This demonstrates the tension between improved support offered by some service centers and the loss of the personal relationship between investigators and research administrations that typifies many departmental administration services.

Pre-Award Support:

Post-Award Support:
Unsurprisingly, given the ongoing debate within the research administration community about service centers, there is not a solid consensus among our survey respondents about their utility. Of the approximately 40% of respondents currently operating or moving toward service centers for research administration, many view them positively as ways to increase access to and quality of support. Others disagree, finding that quality is lowered, and expressing concern about the lack of in-person relationships between faculty and research administration staff. As existing service centers mature, and more institutions move in this direction, we will be interested to see if these opinions hold steady or change with additional data and experience.

If you have any topics or questions that you want to see addressed in Pulse in the future, please let us know. Send feedback, ideas, questions and inquiries to Zoya Davis-Hamilton at