Blurred vision

May 22, 2008

The Arts and Humanities Research Council faces an "imperative to be distinctive in our funding role", according to Philip Esler (Letters, 15 May). Postgraduate studentships in the arts and humanities are not available in significant numbers from any other source, and yet the AHRC has recently cut the proportion of its budget it spends on funding the next generation of scholars ("AHRC plans spark mixed response", 8 May). It is set to scrap the universally acclaimed matched research leave scheme, which spreads small amounts of cash widely and efficiently, supporting scholars and funding temporary teaching posts for new colleagues. There is scant evidence of the "high social, cultural and economic impacts" Esler attributes to the large research schemes favoured by the AHRC.

While its chief executive may think it needs a "unique selling point", the AHRC is an administrative and bureaucratic tool whose existence is not an end in itself. It is considered beyond hope by a growing group of academics who would rather see its funding given to the British Academy. If the cut in funding to postgraduates were reversed, the AHRC might occupy a "distinctive niche".

James Ladyman, Professor of philosophy, University of Bristol.

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