Anger greets loss of 500 arts postgrads

Cuts threaten next generation of scholars and harm research, academics say. Zoe Corbyn writes.

January 24, 2008

Arts and humanities scholars have reacted angrily to news that their research council will halve the number of grants it awards and cut funding for about 500 postgraduate students to meet budget constraints.

In a statement posted on its website, the Arts and Humanities Research Council last week details how it plans to cope with the fallout of last year's Comprehensive Spending Review. The AHRC received a 4.2 per cent real-terms funding increase over three years, the lowest of any research council.

Describing the news as "disappointing" for researchers, the council says the settlement is "not sufficient to continue funding the present volume of awards".

Success rates on applications for research grants will fall "temporarily" to 15 per cent, it says, from current levels of between 22 per cent and 29 per cent.

There will be a similar cut in research leave grants, which pay salary and associated costs while researchers complete a project.

The number of postgraduate awards will be reduced by a third, from 1,500 studentships to 1,000 in 2008; it will return to about 1,325 afterwards, the council says. "We will be capping numbers of applications from higher education institutions in 2008, and (they) should have received a letter explaining this," the statement says.

The British Academy said it was "deeply concerned" about the potential impact of the AHRC's "being forced to reduce its support to this level".

"Investment in the arts and humanities is essential to maintaining the often undervalued contribution they make to the UK's economic, social and cultural wellbeing," it said.

Simon Blackburn, a professor of philosophy at the University of Cambridge, said the news was "terrible".

"It can only accelerate a trend towards either diminishing university activity in arts and humanities or scrambling to find foreign students," Professor Blackburn said.

Geoffrey Crossick, the warden of Goldsmiths, University of London, and former chief executive of the Arts and Humanities Research Board (the AHRC's predecessor), said the consequences of the cuts would be "pretty severe".

The research leave scheme was very important for many traditional humanities researchers, he said.

"For years, it had a success rate of 50 per cent, then it went down to 25 per cent this year to deal with previous cuts and is now to go down to 15 per cent, apparently permanently. It will have a big effect," Professor Crossick said.

Cuts to postgraduate awards would hurt the next generation of academics and exacerbate the problem of the ageing profile of researchers in arts and humanities, he added. "Even though the Government says arts and humanities research is important, it doesn't always behave as though it really believes that. There is a strong case, and the research community has to learn to make (the case) better."

A government spokesperson said that the AHRC had received an increase in its funding.

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