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