East European and former Soviet Union studies is to receive a long-awaited boost with the creation of 33 specially-funded specialist posts, writes Huw Richards.
The Pounds 825,000 programme will be announced today by the Higher Education Funding Council for England. HEFCE last week received a report on the area from an inquiry headed by Bahram Bekhradnia, HEFCE's director of policy. The inquiry was set up following a long campaign by academics disappointed by the minimal response to the 1989 Wooding report on provision for the study of the region.
The Pounds 825,000 will cover 75 per cent of the costs of the posts for three years. A further Pounds 50,000 will fund purchases of archival material from former Communist countries and Pounds 20,000 will be contributed to the creation of a database of academic expertise in the United Kingdom.
Institutions bidding for the new posts will have to show a long-term commitment to supporting them. The Bekhradnia committee - which asked for the creation of 40 posts - said academic provision should be available for all the countries and languages of the region, but pointed to particular priority for Bulgarian, Croatian, Czech, Hungarian, Polish, Romanian, Slovak, Serbian and Ukrainian studies.
The committee took evidence from government departments, business and academic institutions. Mr Bekhradnia said the decision was unanimous: "Our conclusions jumped at us from the evidence. There was a remarkably close match between the needs perceived by the Foreign Office, by business and by the universities, and the evidence in our quantitative data".
HEFCE's decision to pump-prime in this manner is a break with its market-led policy towards subject provision. Mr Bekhradnia said he expected the move to be a one-off: "This is a unique set of circumstances brought about by a speed and extent of change equal to anything in history."