Review of Research Support

Review of Research Support

Review of Research Support

The Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) is pleased to respond to the British Academy’s Review of Research Support. 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 with the assistance of a number of Fellows with substantial experience of research in the arts, humanities and social sciences.

With regard to the general issues raised in Section 1 of the consultation document, the RSE believes that the principle of not having quotas for awards to particular categories of individual or type of activity is a particularly important one. The quality of the research in question should be the only criterion.

On the costs of bringing work to publication, the RSE believes that while some support for publication is necessary, there is a danger of publishers benefiting from these funds rather than the research community. Publication costs should preferably remain the responsibility of the publisher, and will no doubt be reflected in the price of the book. No encouragement should therefore be given to place this responsibility on the author or academic editor, lest it become the norm.

In terms of teaching relief, the RSE agrees that 'time' is one of the elements most urgently needed by research-active scholars, but also that the reduction of a scholar's teaching load by, say, 50% for a single term for most people would not provide the sort of temporal space required, and might not be in the best interests of the students. What is needed in such cases is the freedom to concentrate on the work in question to the exclusion of other matters, which is best provided by a period of research leave which would be better addressed by the universities, Arts and Humanities Research Board (AHRB) and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

The RSE also believes that the availability of conference support grants should be continued by the Academy, and that the current division of resources is appropriate. Something could also be said for extending the Conference Support policy to include younger scholars who wish merely to attend a conference (in Britain as well as overseas). Often this is the way in which they first make academic contacts and find their place in the academic world.

The specific questions raised in the consultation document are addressed below:

Scope of small grants

Please rank in order of priority the items currently eligible for support that you find most useful

  Rank
Travel 1
Maintenance and accommodation 3
Research assistance 2
Secretarial assistance 4
Consumables 6
IT costs (excluding hardware) 5
Preparation of illustrations 8
Preparation of camera-ready copy 9
Permission fees 7

Comments:

The ordering of items here is clearly dependent on a given scholar's discipline and will vary with particular projects. A scholar whose work typically involves fieldwork, for instance, will have different priorities from one who normally works in an archive. Similarly, some types of publication require a considerable amount of expensive illustration, while others require none. Generalisation over the whole arts, humanities and social science field is therefore not easy.

What other items would you wish to be funded?

Suggestions from our Fellowship for other possible items for funding included:

  • Visiting Fellowship funds.
  • Funds to assist with conference organisation/start-up.
  • Small items of capital equipment (e.g. micro-film readers)

Comments:

In terms of Philosophy, particular benefit is gained from mutual interaction, and opportunities for discussion. An extremely valuable resource for this discipline would, therefore, be the inclusion of Visiting Professorships, Fellowships and Lectureships.

Level of grant
If the budget for small grants stays the same at c.£1.5 million pa, would you like to raise the upper limit of grant, bearing in mind that the concomitant effect would be to restrict the number of grants made?

Yes     No ü

Comments:

As there are other mechanisms for the funding of large-scale research, the RSE would be in favour of retaining the £5,000 limit in order that the maximum number of grants should be available.

If yes, what should the upper limit be?
An exceptional limit of £10k.

Comments

The RSE believes that the upper limit of £5000 should be retained unless it proves to be the case that grants at or below that level are insufficient to make possible the achievement of a reasonable research goal. For example, not encouraging a sea-change in the types of project proposed, but allowing help to be given where some unavoidably expensive element enters into a proposal which is 'traditional' in scope and scale, e.g. a longer stay, further travel, more expensive consumables or greater field work requirements than would be normal.

It should also be noted, however, that in fieldwork-based disciplines, such as archaeology, partial funding at a higher level of £15,000 is particularly important in view of the AHRB’s policy of fully-funding a reduced number of projects. In the past, the Humanities Research Board provided middle-level funding to partly fund a larger number of projects.

Priority areas for funding, under small grants scheme
Types of activity: what priority would you give to the following?

  Rank
Primary research 1
Publication or other dissemination of research 2
Other 4
No priority 3

Comments

The RSE believes that primary research underpins all other forms of activity, and should therefore be top priority. Thereafter, publication and dissemination is essential.

Modes of research: What priority would you give to the following?
   

  Rank
Archive, library, or other resource-based research 1
Fieldwork 3
Other 4
No priority 2

Comments

The Academy's existing (and respected) policy of supporting quality of proposal irrespective of subject area would seem to suggest a cautious approach here. To give priority to one or the other of these – or to any mode of research that one might specify – would be to favour one subject over another. For example the requirements of different disciplines require different priorities – thus for an historian, resource-based research is crucial, whereas for archaeology or anthropology fieldwork is the priority. In addition, the purpose of research is to pursue what is not yet known and therefore methods cannot be limited.

Recipients of grants: what priority would you give to the following?
   

  Rank
Recent postdoctoral scholars 1
Mid-career scholars 2
Long-established scholars 6
Independent scholars (not attached to HEIs) 4
Museum, gallery or library staff 5
Other 7
No priority 3

Comments

The RSE believes that proposals should be judged on their merits, since the primary aim is valid research results. However, there might be some justification for giving priority to proposals of merit from scholars establishing themselves. There is soon to be a major crisis in post-filling in many Arts and Humanities subject areas, caused by virtual non- recruitment in the Arts and Humanities in the 1980s and earlier 1990s, and by the fact that the l960's intake will be due to retire very shortly. It is therefore important that postdoctoral scholars and younger academics are encouraged to pursue as much research as possible so that they may have the research and publication background to enable them to take up whatever posts fall vacant. In addition, competition at AHRB and ESRC for funding is so strong, with so many well-established academics making application, that the younger scholar is at a disadvantage.

Administration
Please give any comments on the administration of the small grants scheme

The RSE believes that the operation of the small grants scheme, as outlined in the consultation paper, is well conceived, sensible, and fair. Comments from our Fellowship have included that making applications for grants can be a significant drain on the research community's time and that anything that could be done to lighten the touch of the scheme in this respect would be welcome. For example, perhaps there could be a simplified procedure for grants under, say, £1000 and a slightly more elaborate one for larger grants. A question is also raised by the reference to 'the volume of research already in the field', with regard to the assessment criteria, in relation to the Academy's more general principle of being neutral as to subject field.

Additional Information

In responding to this inquiry the Society would like to draw attention to the following Royal Society of Edinburgh response which is of relevance to this subject: Year 2000 Review of ESRC’s Thematic Priorities (January 2000). 

For further information, please contact the Research Officer, Dr Marc Rands.

 

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