AHRB keen to stay in picture

March 26, 2004

Arts and humanities must not be left behind in the government's new vision for science, the body responsible for research in these areas said this week.

The least controversial aspect of the higher education bill is a provision to make the Arts and Humanities Research Board a fully fledged research council.

Geoffrey Crossick, the chief executive of the board, has welcomed this move, but he has told the Office of Science and Technology that there are serious funding inequalities that must be addressed if the new council is to succeed.

The board is particularly concerned about the impact of implementing the Roberts review proposals, which include increasing PhD stipends and allocating money for training to postdoctoral students. The other research councils were given special funding for this in the previous spending review, but the AHRB was not included.

Professor Crossick estimates that the overall cost to the AHRB of the changes recommended by the Roberts review will be about £7.5 million in 2006-07, a sum that he described as a "major hit" to his small budget.

He told The Times Higher : "If we are not fully funded for this as we enter the OST, then the arts and humanities will see a significant reduction in the volume of research and postgraduate activity we can support."

This year, the AHRB has £33 million to spend on research, which is considerably less than any of the seven existing councils. In 2001-02, the board was able to spend an average of £1,926 per research-active member of staff, compared with £,800 in the other research councils.

Professor Crossick said: "Of course big science is very expensive. But the comparable figure for the Economic and Social Research Council is £3,450. A huge disparity is evident, and it will continue to grow if the inadequacy of our baseline is not addressed."

Shortage of funding is already affecting success rates. Applications to the AHRB's two biggest research funding programmes - the research grants scheme and the resource enhancement scheme - had success rates of 20 per cent and 19 per cent last year. This meant that the board was unable to fund more than half of the very best applications, graded A plus or A.

Professor Crossick said such success rates were "unacceptably low" and might discourage researchers from applying. He said the board needed to get much closer to the 30 per cent success rates common in the other councils.

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