Select Committee on Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Written Evidence


Memorandum 37

Supplementary submission from the Arts and Humanities Research Council following the oral evidence session on 20 February 2008

AHRC RESPONSE TO ENQUIRIES FROM THE HOUSE OF COMMONS SELECT COMMITTEE ON INNOVATION, UNIVERSITIES AND SKILLS

  Further to the oral evidence session on the 20 of February, the AHRC welcomes this opportunity to provide further information and clarification to the committee on some of the issues raised.

1.  The Minister and DG expressed surprise that AHRC was making significant cuts in the first year of CSR07. When did you brief DIUS about the cuts?

  A representative of DIUS was present at the meeting of Council on 21st November 2007. On that occasion Council considered how to deal with low success rates in responsive mode funding necessitated by the CSR result and decided to cancel a Research Leave round. Council also decided to cut postgraduate numbers and reallocate the moneys generated (for details, see response to question 3 below). On 4th December 2007 in an email to a DIUS officer the AHRC Chief Executive confirmed that in 2008-09 there would be 1000 new postgraduate awards in place of the 1,500 new awards in 2007-08.

2.  What alternatives were discussed with the department?

  As noted, a DIUS representative was present at the strategic considerations of the Council at its meeting on 21st November 2007.

3.  What discussion have you had and at what level with DIUS since 20 February?

  We have assumed that the intent was to ask us about discussions that have taken place after the oral evidence session on the 21st, not the 20th. Since 21st February 2008 we have received several emails from senior officers of DIUS requesting factual information in relation to issues raised at the hearing of the Select Committee on 21st February and we have made replies thereto. During a meeting on Tuesday 4th March 2008, which had been pre-arranged as part of the regular cycle of meetings between the Minister of Science and Research Council Chief Executive and which was attended by a senior DIUS officer, there was discussion about the AHRC budget.

4.  Why was the 15 January 2008 press release necessary?

  The release on 15 January 2008 was a statement and not a press release, in that it was only posted on our website and not circulated to the media. It was placed there with a link from our home page as a courtesy to our community so that they could be made aware of the impact of CSR on our spending plans over the next three years. We saw the statement as reflecting our responsibility to be transparent to our academic community, especially to allow them to plan research and postgraduate activities in an effective manner.

  By 15th January 2008 decisions had been made on how best to manage our budget over the next three years and it seemed only fair to inform the community of those decisions so that people could plan ahead for their future award applications. The submission of applications to the AHRC—particularly in the case of research leave—is sometimes planned years in advance and involves complex preparation for both individual applicants and host institutions.

5.  Why did this information not appear in the Delivery Plan?

  The Delivery Plan is a document focusing on opportunities for a three year spending period and was aimed at a variety of stakeholder audiences. It would not have been appropriate to include in this high-level, aspirational document details of reductions in individual schemes.

6.  Why are such severe cuts to PhD places in the first year necessary?

  To understand our broad position in relation to the reduction in new postgraduate awards over the CSR period, it is necessary to set out the historical context, which has seen a reduction in our new postgraduate awards driven by our decision made five years ago to give greater priority to doctoral awards.

  A paper presented to the AHRB Funding Group in June 2003 clearly indicated how the AHRB saw its priorities in respect of the development of the Postgraduate programmes. It said inter alia, that:

    `The budget priorities for the postgraduate programme are derived from 2 sources:

    (i)  the Board's own review of the programme, which recommended changes not only to the configuration of schemes . . . . . ., but also that the balance of awards be shifted to give greater priority to doctoral provision, and

    (ii)   the recommendations of the Robert's reports SET for Success, which called for an increase in doctoral stipends and greater support for research training.

  The effect of responding positively to these two sets of priorities was to increase the proposed expenditure on the postgraduate programme by c. £17 million in total over the four years 2003-04 to 2006-07. This was a direct result of increasing stipends, providing funds for research and other training and shifting the balance of awards from Masters to Doctoral.

  It was recommended and subsequently agreed by our funders that we should effect a shift in the balance of awards commencing with the October 2003 competition. The intention was that over the next five years, the shift would be completed and we would reach steady stage with our new configuration by 2007-08.

  It was clear that there would be cost implications of making these changes since a doctoral award typically costs three times as much as a Master's award. The intention was to effect a more or less cost neutral shift in the balance of awards. As far back as June 2003, it was acknowledged that it would be necessary to reduce the total number of new awards to 1500 (previously 1600) to bring the 2 clusters in balance.

  At the same time, the Roberts Review recommended that doctoral stipends should be increased from £9,000 in academic year 2003-04 to £12,000 in 2005-06. Holders of awards in London receive an additional £2,000 p.a. The average stipend was expected to rise to £13,000 p.a. A further recommendation was that we should increase our funding for research training support and as a result we now provide an allocation of £500 per doctoral award holder p.a. Unlike the other Research Councils, the AHRC did not receive specific funding in SR02 to meet the costs of these increases, but found the funds from within existing resources.

  As can be seen by the table below, the AHRC has acted consistently with this policy.


2003
2004
2005
2006
2007

Research Prep Masters
554
572
534
466
409
Professional Prep Masters
463
348
324
351
328
Doctoral
576
612
632
673
719
1,532
1,593
1,532
1,490
1,490
1,456


  By 2007, the balance between Doctoral and Master's awards had reached the required balance and was deemed to be in steady state from there on.

The length of a PhD was also extended from 3 years to 3.5 years to 4 years during this period, with associated increases in costs.

The indicative allocations letter from Keith O'Nions to Geoffrey Crossick in February 2005 provided details of the sums to be made available to support the cost of implementing the Roberts recommendations. This amounted to £1.137 million in 2006-07 and £6.56 million in 2007-08.

  Regarding levels of funding, the split between Doctoral and Master's awards between 2005-06 and 2008-09 is as follows:


Doctoral
Masters
CDA[45]
Total exc
CDA

2005-06
17.3M
5.1M
0
22.4M
2006-07
20.1M
5.1M
.73M
25.2M
2007-08
22.7M
5.2M
1.7M
27.9M
2008-09
25.5M
5.4M
2.5M
30.9M


  The increase in committed expenditure for Doctoral and Master's awards between 2005-06 and 2007-08 was £5.5 million—less than the sum that was provided to meet the requirements of the Roberts report, as we had been directed to do by government.

  The decision to increase the part-time stipend was not merely an AHRC policy change, but reflected a requirement across the Research Councils to harmonise our funding in this respect, and address potential equal opportunities issues.

  The immediate reason for the cuts in new postgraduate awards in 2008-2009 and thereafter was the need to rebalance our budget in the light of the CSR result. At a meeting with DIUS on 20th November 2007 concern was expressed by DIUS that the proportion of funding in this area was high relative to other research councils, and that we were directing insufficient funds into strategic programmes. The Council considered this question at its 21/11/07 meeting and resolved to reduce post-graduate awards and redirect the sum of approximately £11 million to cross-council and strategic programmes over the CSR period. Achieving this result meant reducing the number of new postgraduate awards to 1,000 in 2008-2009 (compared with approximately 1,500 new awards in 2007-2008) and thereafter making 1,325 new awards in 2009-2010 and 2010-2011. Because spending on a particular cohort of new postgraduates extends across two of our financial years, to secure a reasonable amount of resource for cross-council and strategic programmes in 2008-2009 a large reduction (ie from approximately 1,500 to 1,000) was required. As with all Council meetings, a representative from DIUS was present at the meeting on the 21st November 2007.

7.  Was AHRC expecting a substantially different settlement?

  DIUS had asked all Research to prepare expenditure forecasts based on four possible scenarios ranging from -5% to +10% on current baseline.

8.  In hindsight, did AHRC overstretch itself in terms of commitments made during the last CSR period?

  No.

9.  If so, what changes have been made to ensure that this will not happen in the next spending round?

  (Not applicable re. above).

March 2008






45   CDA stands for Collaborative Doctoral Award-please note that these awards are funded out of the AHRC's research budget-not the post-graduate budget. Back


 
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