The School of Advanced Study is seeking to redefine its focus and take on a greater voice within the humanities after being given the financial green light by the Higher Education Funding Council for England.
Roger Kain, dean and chief executive of the University of London institution, said the school, which has a nationwide remit to support humanities research, would aim to involve itself increasingly in debates important to the subject, such as that relating to open access.
Hefce’s decision to maintain the school’s current level of £8.7 million a year in “special funding” comes after a review led by Edward Acton, the University of East Anglia’s vice-chancellor, and published last month.
In a separate assessment, the University Marine Biological Station Millport, another institution in receipt of the special funding used by Hefce to back national programmes, lost that support.
“One of the things that comes through in the report is perhaps a feeling that we ought to be providing rather more agenda-setting leadership to the humanities in the UK, which we think is absolutely right and [are] moving on that pretty much straight away,” Professor Kain told Times Higher Education.
“[Open access] is an area where we need to play a bigger role in championing research. We can be another voice alongside the research councils and the British Academy, and speak from our position of neutrality within the humanities.”
The Acton review commends the role of the school and its 10 constituent institutes in supporting research and postgraduate education through events, training and access to libraries and digital resources. But it also calls for improvements, including that the school focus on the “humanities broadly defined, rather than perpetuating the…over-capacious label stretching right across the humanities, arts and social science”.
Winning better recognition of the school’s role, including through a branding revamp, is another area to address, said Professor Kain, adding that “it might be clever to get the word ‘humanities’ in [the name]…because that is what we do”.
On the back of the Acton review, rather than being reviewed every five years the school will now receive a rolling five-year budget, based on providing satisfactory annual returns to a strategic advisory group. This would remove the uncertainty that had so far led to a “planning blight”, Professor Kain argued.
Another challenge would be to increase the school’s impact beyond London. “We need to…do more for people who can’t come and use our resources…and get out not just to the UK but [also] the world,” he said.
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