Review of Arts and Humanities Research Funding

Review of Arts and Humanities Research Funding

The Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) is pleased to respond to the Department for Education and Skills’ review of arts and humanities research funding. The RSE is Scotland’s premier Learned Society, comprising Fellows elected on the basis of their distinction, from the full range of academic disciplines, and from industry, commerce and the professions. This response has been compiled by the General Secretary with the assistance of a number of Fellows with substantial experience of research in the arts and humanities.

Together, the Research Assessment Exercise and the Arts and Humanities Research Board (AHRB) have exerted a powerful influence on helping to codify and develop the articulation of research territory in the arts, design and architecture.This has now created a continuum of fundamental, strategic and applied research, in both the arts and humanities, forging a robust research community connected across the UK and internationally. This growing research community has evolved the research originally conducted within boundaries of subject disciplines into more generic areas of knowledge. It would be unfortunate if variable funding regimes throughout the UK were to restrict this growing community of researchers. In this sense it is hard to envisage approaches to scholarship that would be peculiar to regions of the UK when research increasingly extends to more generic fields of knowledge located, for their implementation, within a specific regional context. The Society, therefore, supports the view that an Arts and Humanities Research Councilshould be established, with an appropriate level of funding as a national agency for the UK.

The specific issues identified in the consultation paper are addressed below:

The continuing requirement for a body to distribute project and programme funding for arts and humanities research, with aims similar to those of the AHRB

Are there advantages in a specific body, or bodies, to support research in the arts and humanities over and above core formula funding for research infrastructure provided by higher education funding bodies?
The Society believes that in light of the experience of the AHRB over recent years, there are advantages in having a specific body to support research in the arts and humanities over and above core formula funding for research infrastructure provided by UK Funding Councils.

Should such a body should have similar aims similar to the AHRB?
Such a body should have aims similar to the current AHRB.

The right constitution for an arts and humanities funding body

Is the AHRB currently constituted in the most appropriate and effective way to stimulate high quality research in the arts and humanities and to provide effective advice to the Government?
The Dearing Committee recommended that the Arts and Humanities Research Board should be developed into a fully-fledged Research Council funded on a par with other Research Councils and that recommendation, and the Dearing Committee's reasoning for it, are endorsed by the Society.

What would be the advantages and disadvantages of the AHRB being re-constituted as a Research Council?
The formation of an Arts and Humanities Research Council, located with the other Research Councils in the DTI, would reflect an appropriate view of the standing of UK arts and humanities research.

Are there other models for a body to provide an effective service to enhance arts and humanities research?
Alternative structures for Arts and Humanities, when other research areas are served by full Research Councils, could be seen as reducing the benefit to be derived for research in this area and diminish its impact.

Relationships with Government

Against which set of, inevitably competing, priorities research in the arts and humanities should be judged – education expenditure, national research priorities, expenditure on arts and culture, or other sets of priorities?
The Society believes that research in the arts and humanities, as with other disciplines, should be judged against national research priorities.

If the AHRB were to receive funds direct from Government, which should be the responsible Department(s), and why?
The Arts and Humanities are key elements not only in the national cultures of the UK, but also in its economy. The creative and cultural industries alone represent nearly £60 billion worth of economic activity each year in the UK, and that figure is growing. The Creative Industries Task Force, which was set up to look for ways of maximising the economic impact of British goods and services in the creative sector, has begun to consider the steps that need to be taken to support sustainable growth in the creative and cultural industries and recently highlighted the ways in which the UK’s creative industries can draw on high-quality academic expertise as a source of special strength. The think tank Demos also estimated, in November 1999, that cultural industries could employ 1.5 million people and generate UK revenues of £80 billion, or 6% of GDP by 2010. In this light, there is a case for an Arts and Humanities Research Council funded by the Department of Trade and Industry. The arts, humanities and social sciences are also part of a spectrum of knowledge and understanding which extends through to Science, Engineering and Technology and the increasing significance of multi-disciplinarity (including linkages with the Science, Engineering and Technology base) raise important ethical and social issues.

Collaboration and Partnerships

Has the AHRB led to the development of effective partnerships?
The AHRB has had success in cross-agency partnerships with the European Science Foundation Programme on the Origin of Man, Language and Languages, as well as with an EUROCORES programme involving collaboration between among the funding agencies of the large majority of member states of the European Union. In addition, it has co-funded archaeology projects with the Natural Environment Research Council.

What kind of structural changes might be made to facilitate and enhance collaborations, and which might carry the danger of inhibiting them?
There is potential for linkages between an Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the Economic and Social Research Council, the Medical Research Council and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. Therefore, the location of an AHRC with the other Research Councils in the DTI would promote synergy across the full spectrum of research, and improve the socio-economic impact of arts and humanities research.

While an obvious ally within the present Research Councils would be the ESRC, differences between their respective constituencies would justify establishing a separate AHRC alongside ESRC, rather than merging arts and humanities within it.

Structures and mechanisms to meet the needs and requirements of the four territories of the UK

What are the advantages and disadvantages of a single body that operates across the whole of the UK?
While there needs to be continued support for distinctive, regional needs in terms of culture, employment structure and institutions, the Society is against the separation of Scottish research from its UK and wider nexus. It is vital, therefore, that the scope and functions of an Arts and Humanities Research Council falls within powers reserved to the UK Government. This is partly a matter of funding, but the best of British research needs to maintain comparability with developments elsewhere, with a national overview of excellence, and not become parochial. Within the UK, interdisciplinary research, comparative work and collaborative work thrive on the transfer of ideas, techniques, knowledge and people across boundaries. There might be a real danger of marginalisation, particularly for the vigorous, but relatively small Scottish and Welsh academic sectors, if political considerations were to inhibit this process of transfer.

Additional information

In responding to this inquiry the RSE would like to draw attention to the following Royal Society of Edinburgh responses which are of relevance to this subject: Devolution and Science (April 1999); Devolution and the Arts, the Humanities and the Social Sciences (May 2001) and Quinquennial Review of the Grant Awarding Research Councils (July 2001).
February 2002


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