Thursday, April 07, 2011

Peter Mandler speaks out on the AHRC and "The Big Society"

. . . in a terrific op-ed in the Times Higher here. An excerpt:

"[. . .] I recently wrote a post for the blog "Humanities Matter" drawing attention to what I felt was a new level of government influence over the funding of humanities research, as evidenced by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills' research allocation for 2011-14. An article by Iain Pears in the London Review of Books came to very similar conclusions, and last week The Observer picked up the story.

[. . .] there is a rich and valuable tradition in this country of public funding for sensitive areas relating to news, the arts, education and the like - where free expression is at stake, and where public expenditure is meant to sustain a diversity of views - being held at arm's length from the state.

[. . .] Concern about the AHRC has focused on the fact that its delivery plan pledges several times to "contribute" to "the government's 'Big Society' agenda". To me, the question is not only why the AHRC has so explicitly embraced that particular party-political slogan - as Iain Pears notes, the Economic and Social Research Council, which is much closer to this agenda, has been far more reticent (while finding other ways to satisfy the government). It is also how far the government's "key national strategic priorities" have permeated and should permeate the research programmes of humanities researchers, whose primary responsibility must be to the free and critical exploration of the world's cultures."

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