Historians quit over cash row

January 19, 2007

Subject centre heads claim too much money goes on administration, Rebecca Attwood reports

Two leading historians have quit their posts at a national subject centre amid a heated row over funding.

Documents leaked to The Times Higher uncover a feud at the heart of the Higher Education Academy Subject Centre for History, Classics and Archaeology over whether history is getting its fair share of the cash, and about the fact that almost half the money goes to the central administration.

The centre, one of 24 set up by the HEA to provide teaching support to academics and share best teaching practice, lost its two subject directors for history, Paul Hyland and Alan Booth, as well as the administrator for history, Nicky Wilson.

Minutes of a meeting of the History Advisory Panel reveal members are concerned that history is "substantially underfunded", leaving host universities to pick up the bill.

Professor Hyland told the meeting that about 80 per cent of the students and staff the centre was supposed to serve were historians, but that the salaries budget for history had been reduced from about 23 per cent to 18 per cent of the total subject centre staffing budget.

Meanwhile, the amount of money going to Glasgow University, where the centre's administrative headquarters are based, had increased from about 38 per cent to 48 per cent of the staffing budget, he said.

Professor Hyland said there was also the issue of providing value for money, and he believed there had been "a major and continuous underperformance in some parts of the subject centre" and a "repeated failure to address these issues".

The meeting was told that, were full economic costs to be applied to the history salaries budget, "history would receive approximately £94,000 rather than the allocated figure of £50,000", and that "no funding has ever been provided for a history administrator".

Bath Spa University, where Professor Hyland and MsWilson are based, and Nottingham University, where Dr Booth works, had "provided significant subsidies for the work of history within the centre," and both subject directors noted that "it had become increasingly difficult to cope with the situation".

When contacted by The Times Higher , Professor Hyland and Dr Booth declined to comment.

A member of the HAP, who wished to remain anonymous, told The Times Higher that the directors had been "put in an impossible position". "Glasgow (the administrative centre) has been raking in more and more of the money, with not a great deal to show for it, and distributing what was left to the different subject directors in what seems like a pretty random fashion.

"They've been deaf for years to suggestions that university history - with by far the highest number of undergraduates and teaching staff - needed more resources," the source said.

Colin Brooks, director of the centre, strongly denied the accusations. He said that the highly devolved structure of the centre meant that each of the disciplines had its own active advisory panel, and their interest in their own field came "at the expense of their understanding of the subject centre as a whole".

Dr Brooks said the centre at Glasgow had much more than an administrative role. He said: "We engage in a range of academic activities, particularly activities that unite all parts of our subject centre and with other subject centres."

He said that a significant proportion of money going to Glasgow was fed back into the disciplines, for example, through teaching development grants and cross-disciplinary activities.

"The resource available to the history community is substantially greater than the precise formal allocation to the history directors," he said.

Dr Brooks said that the proportion of total grant retained by Glasgow had decreased.

In 2003-04, Glasgow received 47.9 per cent (£148,615) of the core grant, but in 2006-07, it would receive 44.9 per cent (£179,986).

History's allocation increased over the same period from 20.4 per cent (Pounds 63,463) to 21.5 per cent (£86,028).

"We have tried extremely hard to ensure that history gets a proportionate share, but if we just distributed it according to the number of students or staff neither classics or archaeology could function unless our grant was increased," Dr Brooks said.

rebecca.attwood@thes.co.uk

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