The AHRC announced recently that it had made around 220 new appointments to its peer review college, from which most of the reviewers for AHRC funding applications are drawn.
The recruitment drive, which began last November, followed in the wake of a controversy last summer over the AHRC delivery plan. This plan, published at the end of 2010, made several references to how the council’s Connected Communities programme would contribute to Prime Minister David Cameron’s Big Society agenda.
More than 4,000 academics and 30 learned societies signed a petition calling for the references to be expunged. When the research council refused, 52 members of its peer review college resigned.
However, a spokesman for the AHRC said the recruitment drive, which attracted more than 300 applications, was planned before the resignations and was unconnected to them. Its aim had been to appoint extra reviewers with expertise in knowledge exchange and the AHRC’s priority areas, which include connected communities, as well as design, heritage and modern languages.
The spokesman said that the new members, who are affiliated to 70 different institutions across the UK, took numbers at the peer review college to more than 1,500.
Mark Llewellyn, the AHRC’s director of research, said: “As a former member of the peer review college myself, I know how informative, useful and instructive the process of reviewing and serving on panels can be.”
But Thom Brooks, a reader in political and legal philosophy at Newcastle University, said: “Mention the AHRC to many colleagues now and the row over the Big Society – which is now before the parliamentary ombudsman – inevitably arises.
“This recent announcement is perhaps an attempt to move forward from this unfortunate decision. I remain firmly supportive of the AHRC and the excellent work it continues to do for the arts and humanities. Nevertheless, many of the AHRC’s firm supporters that I know recognise that the inclusion of the Big Society was a needless mistake that should be corrected without further delay.”