Time's up for 'Big Society'

June 2, 2011

Nearly 4,000 signatories have backed a petition calling on the Arts and Humanities Research Council to remove the "Big Society" from its Delivery Plan for strategic research funding with immediate effect. More than 30 learned societies agreed a joint statement supporting the aims of the petition: political campaign slogans should have no place in research council delivery plans.

Now David Willetts, the universities and science minister, has warned that "research councils will doubtless want to reflect on the hazards of referring at all to current political slogans!" ("'We cannot be certain about every step. But the journey will be worthwhile'", 26 May). The more Rick Rylance, the Ahrc chief executive, has tried to wish this issue away in recent weeks, the more this unprecedented opposition has grown.

It is now clear that the AHRC has lost the argument. Any further refusal to remove references to the Big Society from its Delivery Plan will only continue to foster a growing lack of confidence in its leadership on an issue of great concern for many in the sector. The time for action is now so that we may best rebuild trust to face the daunting challenges ahead.

Thom Brooks, Newcastle University, Member, AHRC Peer Review College

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