Arts and impact: with friends like these (2 of 4)

November 18, 2010

Although the coalition government appears indifferent to everything save the market, it has offered to concede one academic value: to his credit, David Willetts, the universities and science minister, has expressed doubts about the impact agenda. But academics themselves are choosing to embrace the final marketisation of higher education.

Research in the humanities goes beyond advice to galleries, digitisation and best-selling biographies. More ambitiously, it studies cultures past and present, and the differences between them.

The benefit of that work is not easily measurable and its influence is gradual, but it does matter. For example, had Tony Blair's Cabinet understood cultural difference, it would not have supposed that we could bomb Iraq and Afghanistan into Western- style democracy.

Educating governments may be an impact worth having, but it probably wouldn't show up in any departmental profile.

Catherine Belsey, Research professor in English, Swansea University.

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