AHRC Big Society row deepens as 42 peer reviewers pull out and call for mass resignations

June 27, 2011

Senior academics have carried out their threat to resign from the Arts and Humanities Research Council's peer review college in a dispute over "Big Society" research – and are now calling on colleagues to join them.

The 42 academics announced last week that they would resign on June unless the council took "clear steps" to remove the five references to David Cameron’s core policy in its latest delivery plan.

The threat came in the wake of a petition, signed by nearly 4,000 academics and endorsed by more than 30 learned societies, calling for the removal of the phrase.

Thom Brooks, reader in political and legal philosophy at Newcastle University and leader of the campaign, said the AHRC's chief executive, Rick Rylance, had written to tell him that the council would continue to consider his points but that it was "highly unlikely" that it would make changes to the delivery plan.

Dr Brooks said the 42 academics who have resigned were from all types of institution from across the UK. "They aren’t rabble-rousers or troublemakers. They are as representative as you can get, and it is meant to send a clear signal that there are going to be other resignations," he said.

Other academics had, Dr Brooks continued, indicated that they would also resign if senior figures took the lead.

Although he was happy for the AHRC to fund research related to the Big Society, Dr Brooks objected to inclusion of the phrase in the delivery plan, especially to the statement that the council's Connected Communities programme would "contribute" to the Big Society.

The AHRC said in a statement issued on Friday that it "regretted" the academics' intention to resign.

"The AHRC peer review college has a membership of 1,280, and we also call upon many other academics outside the college to review research applications as required," the statement added.

paul.jump@tsleducation.com

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