‘Frustrated’ learned societies plan a united front to get AHRC’s attention

March 19, 2008

Learned societies and subject associations in the arts and humanities are setting up a “rapid response group” to make their voices heard amid growing frustration over a number of controversial plans made by their research council.

The Arts and Humanities Research Council has been criticised by several academic groups in recent months over a series of initiatives.

These initiatives include:

  • the AHRC’s decision to make cuts to research grants and its researchers’ leave scheme, which was last month questioned by Ian ­Pearson, the Minister of State for Science and Innovation, who said he was “somewhat surprised” by the severity of the reductions;
  • its plans to reform the structure of its peer review panels, leading to concerns from some that there will be a reduction in specialist scrutiny of research grant applications;
  • the council’s “failure” to oppose a proposed European Research ­Index for the Humanities – a ranked list of humanities journals intended to help identify excellence.

“The subject community has been growing increasingly frustrated at the failure of the AHRC to take note of what individual subject ­associations and learned societies say,” said Robin Osborne, a professor of history at the University of Cambridge and chairman of the Council of University Classical ­Departments.

Professor Osborne said that the AHRC was “ignoring” both the feedback it received when it consulted its subject communities and the representations it received in ­response to decisions it was taking unilaterally.

Representatives of subject associations and learned societies are consulting on how the rapid ­response group could be constructed, said Professor Osborne. He said that support in principle had been received from eight subject bodies.

A spokesman for the council said: “The AHRC takes the concerns of the subject associations extremely ­seriously, and we regularly create opportunities to discuss issues ­impacting on the arts and humanities research community with them.

“In the last year alone, we have had many meetings with subject ­associations on various matters ­including a recent meeting on ERIH… We find their input insightful and constructive,” the AHRC spokesman said.


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