Humanities losing cash to science, BA fears

July 2, 2004

Arts, humanities and social science scholarship is suffering financially because it is seen as lightweight compared with science research, according to a review by the British Academy.

The review, launched this week, says the humanities and social sciences are marginalised by the Government because the output of their research is often less easily measured in economic terms. This has led to a notion that their scholarship is less important than science, it says.

The academy says that the huge benefits of teaching and research in the arts and social sciences are sometimes intangible and are not always recognised by the Government, "which often appears to focus on the needs of the science base instead of supporting research as a whole".

The BA review says: "Although their intellectual contributions cannot be measured as public service targets, this does not make them less important to the economy and to society."

The BA fears that the disciplines' vital contribution to the UK's cultural, intellectual and social enrichment - as well as its economic prosperity - is not appreciated. Cost-cutting is curtailing activities that contain the seeds of future growth, it says.

"The state should only invest public funds if they will yield a real return, but it is illogical and damaging to equate return solely with a measurable immediate economic return. The value of knowledge goes beyond narrow definitions, and supporting top-quality higher education is fundamental to a civilised, liberal and enlightened economy," it says.

The review highlights the way the disciplines have tackled social, cultural, ethical and economic challenges, including medical advances, educational change and the management of international relations. It says:

"The arts, social sciences and humanities have had a major impact on policy and policy debate, often leading to issues being reframed. Research in these subjects is crucial in exploring the nature of the communities within which we live and with which we might interact. Their findings are seen as central to the effectiveness of public services and the proper organisation of the welfare state, and the formation of international policies."

The arts are also uniquely placed when it comes to understanding the effects of globalisation and analysing the impact of change in other countries, according to the review.

"Work on international politics, peace and war remains a major theme for scholarship in the arts, humanities and social sciences," the report says.

"The practical importance of this body of work is obvious. The arts, humanities and social sciences anticipate potential new threats and assess how they might be handled."

The review concludes that the many pressing problems facing the world rely on close interaction between science and technology subjects and the arts, humanities and social sciences.

It says: "The pace of scientific and technological developments will often throw up political and social problems in which many subjects including law, economics, sociology and philosophy may play important roles."

Geoffrey Crossick, chief executive of the Arts and Humanities Research Board, said: "Academics in the arts and humanities have in the past been too reticent about proclaiming the difference that their research makes to so many aspects of national life, which is why the British Academy report is an important step forward."

An Arts and Humanities Research Council has been promised as part of the Higher Education Bill, which is making its way through Parliament.

alison.utley@thes.co.uk

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