AHRC claims arts research outperforms science as spending review looms

June 18, 2009

Arts and humanities researchers are outperforming their colleagues in the sciences both in terms of their presence on the world stage and quality of their output, a report suggests.

The study from the Arts and Humanities Research Council makes the case for continued taxpayer support. It argues that the UK leads the world in the field, and that arts and humanities research has substantial economic and social impact.

It is the latest in a flurry of publications from research councils intended to convince the Government of the merits of their fields in the run-up to the next Comprehensive Spending Review.

The report, Leading the World: The Economic Impact of UK Arts and Humanities Research, comes after Steve Smith, president-elect of Universities UK, questioned whether the arts and humanities were adequately making the case for continued public support.

Speaking at the annual conference of the Association of University Administrators in April, he said: "When Treasury officials ask social science and humanities people what (the public) get for their money, what the impact is on the economy, the answer is often - and this is the polite version - 'Please go forth and leave us with more money.'"

The report asks three questions: why arts and humanities research is important, why the public should continue to pay for it, and why it should be funded through the AHRC.

It invites the conclusion that, academically, arts and humanities researchers are outperforming their science colleagues. It says that UK arts and humanities researchers produce nearly as many scholarly articles as their American counterparts, generating 33 per cent of the world's papers, compared with the US's 37 per cent. By contrast, it says the UK produces only 10 per cent of the world's output in scientific research.

It also points out that arts and humanities researchers scored the highest proportion of "world-leading" work in the recent research assessment exercise, and estimates that every pound invested in research by the AHRC yields £10 of economic benefit in the short term and another £15-20 in the long term.

Philip Esler, the AHRC chief executive, said: "Everyone that wants government funding at a time when there are lots of priorities has to make a good case for it."

The report also outlines the cultural benefits of funding research - from making the UK a cohesive society to providing good listening on Radio 4 - and develops a new model for measuring its economic impact, straddling "economic" and "civic" capital.

"The UK has this unique cultural ecosystem that feeds straight into the creative and cultural industries which are about 12 per cent of the economy," Professor Esler said.

He added that these industries outshone both the pharmaceutical and banking sectors. "Arts and humanities research is a big driver in that system. If it is not properly funded, the economy and society and public service will suffer in consequence," he said.

The report drew on essays from senior researchers who were asked to write on the value of their research.


The full report is available at www.ahrc.ac.uk.

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