Bumper crop of fellowships in time of famine

March 3, 2011

The University of Oxford's humanities division is offering eight postdoctoral fellowships in an effort to shield early-career researchers from excessive teaching loads and support them through "the most difficult time in a generation".

Andrew Fairweather-Tall, assistant registrar for research in the humanities division, said the university's application to the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for funding had highlighted the fact that many "brilliant researchers" at the end of their PhDs are forced to take teaching-heavy posts that do not give them much time for research.

"This means they become less employable by higher education institutions, which are driven to prioritise research excellence in recruitment exercises.

"We feel very strongly that we need to give people a chance to generate new ideas before they end up with a heavy teaching load," Dr Fairweather-Tall said.

He explained that the US grant-making charity had awarded the university £1.3 million to fund the fellowships in 2008.

The university spent about £450,000 on five postdoctoral fellowships in 2009, but had deliberately held the bulk of the money back. "We realised that during this, more than any other, year it was important to send out a positive message for the humanities," Dr Fairweather-Tall said. "There are cuts from all sides and it is difficult to appoint people."

Last year the government announced that public funding for teaching in most humanities subjects would be cut by 80 per cent, while the Arts and Humanities Research Council's budget would fall by about 11 per cent in real terms over the next spending period.

"We have released what we believe to be the largest number of postdoctoral research fellowships in humanities ever advertised at one time at Oxford in the firm belief that the purpose of the scheme - to recruit the next generation of research leaders - is fundamental to the academic health of this university and, more widely, the cultural and economic vibrancy of the UK," Dr Fairweather-Tall said.

He added that the university hoped to be able to advertise a similar number of fellowships next year if it could secure funding.

paul.jump@tsleducation.com

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