No bias in BA

August 13, 2004

Your report "BA criticised over handling of £2m award" (July 30) was misleading and presented a distorted picture of the National Audit Office's findings on the award of the British Academy Centenary Research Project.

You did not make sufficiently clear to your readers the NAO's overall conclusion that they had found "no evidence of bias on the part of the academy in its handling or consideration of the applications".

Moreover, the NAO did not find that the selection criteria were changed by the academy mid-competition, as you and Richard Grove have repeatedly claimed. Nor, on the question of conflicts of interest, did the NAO find that the expert assessor appointed to assess the Sussex bid had a conflict of interest, as suggested by your references to Grove's allegations.

The suggestion in your Leader, "Grants for the few", that the NAO found that the British Academy "failed by some distance" to follow best practice is wholly unfounded and an inaccurate representation of the NAO's report.

On the contrary, the NAO stresses that the academy acted in good faith throughout the application and selection process.

We are grateful to the NAO for its thoughts and advice on best practice, always something of a moving target as its report acknowledges.

As for academy research awards, the figures you published are also misleading. Of mid-career research readerships and fellowships in the past seven years, 25 per cent went to women (rising to 29 per cent over the past five years), and 46 per cent of postdoctoral fellowships, matching closely in each case the proportions of applications received from men and women.

It is surely unsurprising that awards designed for the most outstanding researchers tend to be concentrated in the leading research-intensive universities. Furthermore, of the 2,896 research awards that the academy has made in the past five years, 1,034 (36 per cent) have gone to women and 1,862 (64 per cent) to men, again very closely corresponding to the proportions of applications received. Some 593 awards (20 per cent) have been to scholars in the golden triangle, and 2,003 elsewhere, including 285 in post-1992 universities.

In these ways, the academy's research programmes help to sustain research capability throughout the UK by supporting excellent scholars and projects wherever they are located.

Peter Brown
British Academy

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