Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The AHRC and Me: So What Happened Next?

Readers will recall our goal of convincing the UK's Arts and Humanities Research Council to remove all references to "the Big Society" from its 5-year strategic plan for research funding. The "Big Society" was a Conservative Party campaign slogan during the 2010 general election. This strategic plan was the first that appears to make explicit references to such a campaign slogan. Many colleagues expressed some alarm - although this was not universal - that this might mark a worrying move away from the treasured "Haldane principle" whereby the government is not to influence research funding decisions.

Thousands of colleagues from the UK and abroad signed petitions calling on the AHRC to remove all references to the "Big Society" leading to over 50 senior members of the AHRC's own Peer Review College resigning together over this issue. Such activities may have been the largest show of academic opposition to a research council strategic plan. And yet nothing seemed to change.

Until now. The AHRC has published a draft of its next 5-year plan. Gone are the references to political campaign slogans (and there is no mention of the "Big Society"). Moreover, there is welcome language about the AHRC's efforts to further improve communication and support for and with its Peer Review College. These are highly welcome moves.

This is not to say the situation is now ok. There remain concerns that increasing amounts of AHRC funding will go to "themes" decided from above leading to less available funding for lone scholars - although this is yet to be confirmed.

Nonetheless, it may have taken over a year, but a victory at last of sorts. There is no place for political campaign slogans in strategic research funding plans. Period. It seems clear our collective voice has been heard.

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