Arts face cash cuts in switch to metrics

May 19, 2006

Vice-chancellors warn that the Government's new bias towards science will starve arts and humanities research of funding. Anna Fazackerley reports

University heads this week accused the Treasury of abandoning vital arts and humanities subjects in the rush to inject more money into science.

Fears about support for the arts and humanities have been escalating since Chancellor Gordon Brown announced in his Budget a radical overhaul of the research assessment exercise, with a move to a simpler metrics-based system.

Figures close to the Government said this week that its consultation on the way forward was unlikely to kick off in May, as planned, because it was proving difficult to iron out potential problems.

According to initial calculations circulated privately by the Department for Education and Skills, institutions with a strong foundation in the arts, humanities and social sciences are likely to be the hardest hit by a switch to metrics.

The vice-chancellor of a key research university told The Times Higher : "My reading is that this is about Gordon Brown pushing money towards science."

John Craven, the vice-chancellor of Portsmouth University and convener of the new Alliance of Non-Aligned Universities, said that a number of vice-chancellors at the group's second meeting a fortnight ago had been anxious about what the Treasury might do to the arts and humanities.

He said: "At Portsmouth, we have two areas of science that are in the Treasury's sights, but we are worried about what will happen to European studies."

Paul Johnson, deputy director of the London School of Economics, which could stand to lose up to 80 per cent of its research income under the new system, said: "This has been missed in all the furore over metrics, but it is the primary concern.

"If the Treasury shifts money away from the arts and humanities into science, many universities will face a large-scale redistribution internally, and that will involve considerable pain."

Geoffrey Crossick, warden of Goldsmiths, University of London, and a former chief executive of the Arts and Humanities Research Council, said that the Treasury was panicking because industry investment in research and development was going down.

He said: "Over the past few years, the Government has made huge progress in understanding the importance of the arts and humanities. But I think the problem is that the Treasury can easily take its eyes off the ball because of what it sees as other bigger priorities."

But Eric Thomas, vice-chancellor of Bristol University, said: "This is all utter bollocks. The last thing the Treasury will want to do is cut off a cut off a vital feeding chain to companies in the UK."

He added: "You can model until you are blue in the face, but as we haven't yet sorted out what the metrics are how can you do the sums?"

A spokesperson for the Treasury said: "The working group will need to produce proposals that would reward and encourage high-quality research across the full range of subjects.

"The arts and humanities will be integral to whatever system follows the RAE."


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