Select Committee on Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Fourth Report

4  Arts & Humanities Research Council


109. The Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) is the second newest Research Council. It started life as the Arts and Humanities Research Board, which was founded in 1998 in response to the Dearing Report. In 2002, a Government review panel recommended that a full Research Council for the arts and humanities should be created, and AHRC was founded on 1 April 2005. Its strategic aims are:

110. The range of subjects that AHRC covers is extremely wide: classics, ancient history, archaeology, visual arts and media, English language and literature, history, languages and linguistics, librarianship and museum studies, music and performing arts, philosophy, law and religious studies.

Delivery Plan

111. AHRC's funding increase of 12.4% over the CRS07 period is the smallest increase of all the Research Councils. We have two concerns in relation to this figure. First, once FEC is taken into account, this equates to a loss of over £3 million.[145] Second, the arts and humanities share of the Science Budget will fall from 2.8% in 2007/08 to 2.6% in 2010/11. Approximately 25% of the academic community is made of arts and humanities researchers.[146]

112. We are concerned that AHRC's reduced share in the science budget sends out a negative message to the arts and humanities community.

113. Despite AHRC's tight settlement, its Delivery Plan is positive in tone. In particular, it highlights AHRC's focus on innovation, knowledge transfer and wealth creation, and its commitment to the cross-council programmes. However, on 7 February 2008, AHRC issued a statement to its community to explain that the small increase, combined with FEC commitments, would mean a reduction in the volume of research it funded. It also outlined two key decisions that it had taken regarding funding priorities:

  • success rates in research grants and research leave grants are set to fall from 25% to 15% (the September 2008 round of the research leave scheme[147] has been cancelled entirely[148]); and
  • new postgraduate awards will be cut from 1,500 to 1,000 in 2008 and to about 1,350 for the following two years.[149]

114. While the cuts in research grants are unwelcome, we are more concerned about the impact on the number of postgraduate awards. The age profile of academic staff in the arts and humanities contrasts starkly with the age profile of staff working in the maths, science and engineering: in the arts and humanities around 7% of researchers are aged between 31 and 35 and around 13% are aged between 56 and 65; compared with around 19% and 8% respectively in the biological, mathematical and physical sciences.[150] We are concerned that reducing the number of postgraduate places will discourage younger researchers from entering academia in the arts and humanities. This is of particular importance at a time when the economic impact of the sector is becoming increasingly recognised as significant.

Communication with Government

115. When we asked the Minister for Science and Innovation about the cuts that AHRC is making to research grants and postgraduate places, he was surprised:

You are right to say that the Arts and Humanities Research Council received an increase in funding, in actual fact £26.3 million more over the CSR period. I would also point out that the Arts and Humanities Research Council did well in the last Spending Review where its budget increased by 20.5 per cent over the previous three years of CSR04. The situation, as Keith outlined earlier, is that AHRC will have received its full economic costing increase and then its budget is probably minus one per cent, so it is somewhat of a surprise to me to learn that it is planning to see such a major reduction in the first year in terms of its number of research grants. I will want to enquire why that is the case.[151]

The Director General of Science and Innovation added that he was "similarly perplexed".[152]

116. We are surprised at the Minister and Director General's surprise. It was DIUS that indicated to AHRC, in a meeting on 20 November 2007, that it was concerned that the proportion of funding going towards postgraduate awards was high relative to other Research Councils and that AHRC should redirect funds into strategic programmes.[153] It seems to be a breach of the Haldane Principle that the Government should direct a Research Council to switch funding from postgraduate awards to programme funding merely on the basis of it being out of step with other research councils, or indeed for any other reason. AHRC acted on this concern by deciding in a Board meeting on 21 November 2007, at which a DIUS official was present, to make the cuts outlined above.[154] On the other hand, it is not clear why these cuts, having been decided in November 2007, did not appear in AHRC's Delivery Plan of December 2007, or why it took until February 2008 for them to be announced.

117. We are concerned that the lines of communication between AHRC and the Government are not clear enough. We recommend that that there be an urgent review between DIUS and the AHRC as to whether the scale of the proposed reductions in postgraduate awards should be moderated, in the light of the concerns we have expressed here. While respecting the Haldane Principle, we recommend that DIUS review its working relations and communication strategy with the Research Councils, so that the process of decision-making should be more clearly in line with overall strategy and Government policies.

144 Back

145   AHRC will receive a near-cash increase of £25 million over CSR07; the FEC addition is £28.2 million. Back

146   Delivery Plan 2008-2011, Arts and Humanities Research Council, December 2007, p 10 Back

147   Research Leave is a scheme that provides salary and associated costs for periods of three to four months, to provide relief from teaching and other duties so as to enable researchers to complete projects. Back

148 Back

149 Back

150   Talent wars: the international market for academic staff, Universities UK, July 2007, p 4 Back

151   Q 224 Back

152   Q 225 Back

153   Ev 115 Back

154   Ibid. Back

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