Humanities awards shake-up

January 23, 1998

A SHAKE-UP of a Pounds 4 million postgraduate award scheme is planned by the British Academy's Humanities Research Board.

Managed by the Department for Education and Employment for more than 20 years, the scheme gives awards to students in art and design and library and information science. It was handed over to the HRB last year.

An HRB consultation paper, just issued to universities and art and design colleges, says: "Change is needed, in order to ensure that awards are allocated to students, courses and departments of the highest quality in the relevant subject areas." The paper calls for views on how the scheme might be restructured.

The DFEE allocates funds through the scheme on a quota basis. The "quota list" has 25 institutions for awards in art and design and 12 for library and information science.

The system is at odds with the HRB's policy of making allocations on a competitive basis. The HRB paper says: "One of the prime motivations for the DFEE's transfer of the scheme was to allow for the introduction of a system of academic review of the allocations of awards, either by peer review or by a student-driven competition."

The quota lists have remained relatively static. "I do not think anyone would pretend that those on the lists represent a reasonable cross-section of postgraduate provision in the areas, let alone excellence. There is no correlation at all between the research assessment exercise and the quota lists," said Michael Jubb, deputy secretary of the British Academy. He said there could be "quite a few losers" among current beneficiaries.

The transfer of the scheme to the HRB will make it responsible for 497 bursary awards of which 226 are for MA and diploma courses in art and design, 184 for diploma courses in librarianship and information science, and 87 for MA and diploma courses in subjects including drama, media and archive administration and archaeology.

Sheffield Hallam University's Elaine Thomas, chairperson of the Conference for Higher Education in Art and Design, said the scheme was the only means of providing support to art and design graduates but many colleagues in the art and design community were unaware of the issues raised in the HRB paper.

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