Career progression the university’s Career Development Fellowship (CDF) scheme 2001 to 2004

Brief description

This scheme develops promising staff at an early stage of their academic career and promotes equality of opportunity by creating a more diverse pool of candidates for academic posts. Its design and delivery within the University’s Human Resources (HR) Strategy was funded using money from Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE’s) Rewarding and Developing People initiative. Twelve fellows (CDFs) were appointed for 2002-4. All were women and the majority were from minority ethnic or national backgrounds. The scheme was developed as a stepping-stone between research posts held by a high proportion of women and permanent lecturerships held by a high proportion of men.


The scheme was a response to research evidence arising from an Athena funded study which demonstrated that:

  • women are appointed to academic posts at least in proportion to their applications, but that the rate of applications from women is low, and
  • talented junior researchers wishing to develop an academic career are likely to perceive posts at Oxford and similar universities as being at too senior level for a first permanent appointment.

Organisation structure and management

The CDF scheme was first proposed to the Personnel Committee at the end of 2001 and by the start of the following academic year 12 fellows were in post. This was made possible by substantial contributions from the heads of division and the Chairman of the senior tutors’ committee, who worked closely with university officers to ensure the successful adoption of their proposal. A full but speedy consultation was carried out with academic departments and colleges to match CDF vacancies with academic needs and strategies which allowed the posts to be advertised in February 2002 for appointment in October 2002.

Key features

fellowships are for two years and have both a research and a teaching component
a training and development package is defined for each fellow, and CDFs undertake the University’s Postgraduate Diploma in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education
CDFs attend group review meetings with a professional development adviser and professional career development advice is provided throughout the fellowship
each fellow has a sponsor or ‘mentor’ in her department or faculty and an attachment to a college

The factors identified as contributing significantly to the success of the scheme are:

  • a clear evidence base demonstrating that action was required
  • support at the highest level
  • strong internal communication, including the support and active participation of the colleges
  • a positive action recruitment strategy
  • provision of tailored learning and development opportunities
  • continued support for CDFs in post, and
  • the availability of additional funding through the HR Strategy.

The heads of departments (mostly men) who led the recruitment were clear that the disproportionately high rates of women, shortlisted and appointed, genuinely reflected the high calibre of the female applicants, compared with the men. One possible answer to the question why so many highly qualified women applied for these posts is that they were given the confidence to apply by the emphasis in the advertisement on career development, including the opportunity to undertake the University’s postgraduate diploma in learning and teaching, by the offer of a mentor, and by the very positive image of the University conveyed generally by the advertisement. It also seems likely that women may be more confident in applying for ‘the next step up’ rather than making the perceived ‘leap’ to a lecturership.

Each CDF had an individual meeting with the University’s professional development adviser. These meetings offered the opportunity for the CDF to reflect upon her career aspirations and to consider the areas of her work she needed to develop. Actions were identified and included, for example, setting up one-to-one coaching for a CDF who identified a need to improve her administrative skills; another CDF committed to seeking out a peer, known to have expertise, to train her in the use of specific equipment; and a number of CDFs committing to undertaking the University’s diploma in learning and teaching in HE. Once the notes of the meeting were agreed with the CDF, they were copied to her mentor, so that he or she was kept informed and could react appropriately. The CDFs meet as a group to review and reflect upon their experiences in post and have found this helpful and constructive.

Impact and benefits

Comments from CDFs referred to:
time and facilities to develop further the themes of my research and to publish…to concentrate on career development …to observe the workings of a faculty/college…to interact with peers…to gain advice from more senior colleagues...the opportunity to take the Diploma as well as having the experience of teaching – course design, marking, dissertation supervision – should add significant weight to my applications for teaching posts


Arrangements are in place to monitor the progress of individual CDFs and to evaluate the scheme with a view to making a further tranche of two-year appointments in October 2005. The progress of the CDFs and their subsequent success in applications for permanent posts at Oxford or similar institutions will be carefully monitored. An interim evaluation was conducted with questionnaires sent to the CDFs, their mentors, their colleges, and their divisions, to elicit feedback from different perspectives.

The future

This innovative project has a wider application in the sector. Early indications are that the project will succeed in its aim of widening and diversifying the recruitment pool for academic posts thereby assisting in increasing the proportions of women and ethnic minorities among the University’s academic staff. The University’s HR Strategy group is planning a further tranche of Career Development Fellowships for appointment in October 2005. A number of other initiatives, such as revising the University’s approach to academic recruitment and advertising and developing ‘work-life balance’ arrangements, are underway, aimed at attracting women academics generally to consider Oxford as a career move.

Athena Report 12 Encouraging Applications from Women Scientists (Adobe PDF File, 181kb) provides information on Oxford’s 20000/01study to identify and research the barriers, real and perceived, which prevent women from applying for academic appointments for which they are eligible.