Leader: Grants for the few

July 30, 2004

The British Academy's task is to recognise excellence in the arts and humanities, and to enhance their role in national life. It should be straightforward - the "creative industries" are universally regarded as the future of the British economy.

This week, the National Audit Office has agreed with The Times Higher that the British Academy failed by some distance to follow best practice in the spending of its £2 million centenary fund. This is a serious issue that must be addressed, but it is only part of the story. More serious is the academy's long-term failure to support good arts and humanities research outside the Golden Triangle of Oxford, London and Cambridge. The Golden Triangle has absorbed 44 per cent of the academy's readership and fellowship grant money, about 30 times as much as all new universities put together. And despite being in a subject area that has come closer than most to gender equality, the academy gives the bulk of its money - 78 per cent - to men.

Improving the situation in both of these areas would not mean lowering standards or even adopting some form of positive discrimination. A look at the research portfolio of other funders in the field shows that cutting-edge arts and humanities research is widespread, in traditional topics such as history and new ones such as the study of migration or the internet. A functioning scholarly academy has to be able to stand up to audit of its scholarly processes as well as its decision-making.

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