This Association (MeCCSA) represents departments and
scholars in its field in UK universities. Our fields
extend across both social science and humanities disciplines,
and both research and postgraduate training fall within
the remit of the ESRC and the AHRB.
We welcome this opportunity to comment on the ESRC studentship
scheme. Our comments are guided by the following principal
Our field is often impeded by the uncertainty of
its interdisciplinary status, posing difficulties
for students and departments in deciding where best
to seek accreditation or funding. We would welcome
further clarity in this area, though it is not a
primary focus of this consultation.
One consequence of that uncertainty is a severe
under-funding of postgraduate training in our field,
which poses worries for the future of its research
base, a concern very clearly articulated by the RAE
panel primarily dealing with our field (Panel 65)
in its final summary report.
We are concerned that this consultation is taking place
so soon after the 2001 recognition exercise, effectively
preventing the lessons of even its first year of operation
from being fully digested. Significant changes in the
immediate future could be very unhelpful to Departments
and students, and may require further modification in
the light of recommendations arising from the Roberts
Report, and implementation of various proposals in the
White Paper on Higher Education. While we find many aspects
of the current arrangements unsatisfactory, we are wary
of premature and unduly frequent modification to a system
many already find difficult to negotiate and frequently
changing. We have not undertaken a full consultation
with our members on this exercise, and would expect a
fair degree of variation in approaches to it across the
We very much welcome the broad underlying aspiration
of directing studentships to the best students, with
no undue focus on particular types of institution. We
also welcome the increasing role of research training
in doctoral research supervision and management.
We have considerable concern at undue concentration
of student support in a narrow range of institutions.
In 2001 47 per cent of 509 new awards were held in just
ten institutions. Our own fields suffer from under-representation.
It is impossible to detect from the disciplinary breakdown
in ESRC figures how many awards were made in our fields,
but only five were awarded to ‘multi-disciplinary’ applications.
It is unlikely that the deficiencies in ESRC support
are remedied by AHRB support. Of 561 ‘B’ (doctoral)
awards last year provided by the AHRB only 11 were in
cultural studies while 18 were in film studies, a more
familiar territory for the Board. Many more than this
were made in practice areas associated with media studies,
but the research base across humanities and social science
aspects of our fields appears not to be receiving adequate
support from either the ESRC or AHRB. One factor is the
relatively low proportion of graduates in our field (compared
to many other cognate areas) going into postgraduate
study of any kind. While this is at least in part because
of their very high employability, and the relative attractions
of salaries in appropriate sectors compared with the
diminishing allure of academic employment, it is also
inevitably a response to limited funding support.
We welcome the recognition that research training should
form part of the development of doctoral research. We
therefore support the assessment of outlets for the capacity
to provide such training to a sufficient standard. Like
others we have strong reservations about the range and
diversity of research methodologies implicitly required
of students in such training, and would welcome a more
relaxed and varied regime, offering students choice.
We also accept that quality assurance for such provision
requires some concentration so that students can undertake
their training in common with others, and with some security
about the critical mass of provision which such concentration
affords. Equally we recognise that in our fields there
is a wide dispersion of research expertise across institutions,
and that students may receive very strong research supervision
in departments where small research groups, or individuals,
are working to a very high standard.
This lead us to support the use of a hybrid system,
in which the allocation of a quota of awards to some
institutions would allow greater autonomy to departments,
provide greater potential for forward planning, and may
reduce the administrative role of the ESRC. We are wary
of the possibility that too much stability in the system
may lead to weaker students being supported by departments
needing to fill their quota at the expense of stronger
students working in areas outside the expertise of quota
holding departments. We therefore favour the retention
of an element of competition.
We do not regard external research funding as a suitable
metric for the assessment of departmental eligibility
for quotas. In our field, as in many others, this is
not a major indicator of research quality or expertise,
as recognised by the RAE panel.
We are concerned that a quota system too rigidly associated
with discipline specific training may disadvantage inherently
interdisciplinary areas such as ours. It is therefore
vital that interdisciplinary provision (including that
provided inter-departmentally, or even across institutions),
is not excluded from a quota system. The consultation
paper is a little unclear on the application of quotas
to subject areas or to institutions (given greater emphasis).
The latter formulation may be more appropriate to avoid
the difficulty we outline here.
We envisage some advantages in quota allocations being
applied to 1+3 studentships with a greater element of
competition in +3 studentships. . Quota allocations are
probably less suitable for +3 studentships only; many
of such students will have been self-funding in a prior
training year, and will be based at the department where
they wish to undertake their research.
We are concerned at the implications of too heavy an
emphasis on a quota system for mature students and others
for whom mobility is problematic. The unavailability
of support at an institution within convenient reach
of a home base from which travel or moving is impractical,
may well disadvantage many categories of student.
We envisage a number of practical difficulties in the
application and assessment of procedures arising from
the experience of previous quota systems, in which at
one and the same time there were unfilled quota places
which had hurriedly to be filled by local graduates,
while other applicants were offered places at more than
one institution that held a quota. The logistics of this
need further consideration and consultation.
Further thought also needs to be given to the disparity
in information available for 1+3 applicants and for +3
applicants, which at present bedevils the assessment