Post-92s suffer as AHRC block grants favour traditional sector

Four modern universities receive postgraduate cash as Oxbridge dominates, writes Zoë Corbyn

April 9, 2009

Four modern universities have made it on to a list of 48 higher education institutions selected to receive almost £200 million in funding for postgraduate students by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

Departing from its previous policy of providing masters and PhD studentships to individual postgraduate students wherever they studied, the AHRC last week named 48 institutions that had been selected for its Block Grant Partnerships (BGPs).

The 48 universities will share £199 million to fund about 5,600 masters and PhD students over the next five years, in a move designed to provide stability and allow institutions to plan for the longer term.

But the bulk of the grants have gone to traditional research-intensive or specialist institutions, despite the 2008 research assessment exercise finding "pockets of excellence" among post-1992 universities, largely in arts and humanities research.

From the post-92 sector, Birmingham City and Manchester Metropolitan universities and a partnership between Northumbria University and the University of Sunderland have been awarded BGPs.

The Million+ think-tank, which represents post-92 institutions, declined to comment, but the head of humanities research at one unsuccessful post-92 university spoke of its disappointment. "It is hard not to be sceptical about a system that rewards past successes," the academic said.

The biggest winners were the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, which took nearly 23 per cent of the 5,602 awards between them, although Oxford beat Cambridge by securing funding for 697 places compared with the latter's 586.

At subject level, 33 subjects received funding. History was rewarded with the most studentships. It received 828 awards, followed by English language and literature, with 809 awards.

The BGP scheme will account for about 1,120 awards per year. PhD places take up about 53 per cent of the allocation. The institutions were graded by peer review.

"Only research organisations that have shown strong evidence of excellent strategic planning for, and delivery of, high-quality postgraduate research and training in the arts and humanities have received BGPs," an AHRC spokesman said.

The AHRC is the last council to introduce a form of block grant for funding studentships, as cash for postgraduate research is increasingly concentrated. Universities that will receive the studentships are listed on the AHRC website, although the number of awards they have won will remain confidential unless they decide to publish the details.

Universities that have made announcements include: the University of Liverpool, which said it won more than £3 million for 89 studentships; Queen Mary, University of London said it received £2.9 million for 74 studentships; the University of Exeter received £4.2 million for 119 studentships; and the University of Manchester got £2.5 million for 221 awards.

Institutions that failed to gain a block grant will still be eligible to enter students under a separate open competition.

The AHRC will offer about 200 awards annually through its parallel Studentship Competition.

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