AHRC consultation on Postgraduate Funding – MeCCSA with AMPE response

MeCCSA with AMPE have considered the proposals for the future administration of postgraduate awards. The consultation focuses very much on how the new scheme might be implemented by institutions and so does not seek views on the principle of what is proposed. We understand that the AHRC is keen to act on its proposals but a longer and more open period of consultation might have produced more considered responses which in the end might save time by pinpointing some of the problems more precisely. We hope that these comments which do not fit the pro-forma schema will nevertheless be helpful.

We have argued in the past for diversity in funding and for money to be allocated to the newer disciplines and to innovative, inter-disciplinary work. On the broad points of principle raised in the report, it is true to say that opinion is divided because it is not clear that the revised system would meet its declared aims. Concerns centre on two questions:

  • will wealthy universities with strong research resources win out not just in areas in which they can offer the best supervisors but also in subject areas in which their research record is not strong? This is of particular importance in our subject areas of film, media, communications and cultural studies since groundbreaking work has often been developed by individual scholars with limited resources and potentially excellent supervisors are in small departments.
  • Will the shift to decision-making by institution mean that the decision to make an award to a particular student is not taken by peers in a particular subject area but by the big power blocks/subject groups/senior personnel which control the decision-making? This means that innovative work in smaller departments or units could loose out to more established subject areas. Practice-based research may be particularly vulnerable if the block grants are concentrated on the traditional humanities subjects.

There are some other more technical questions to explore such as:

  • Will universities/faculties/department be expected to draw up their own criteria for appointing students, or will they have to follow a set of criteria laid down by the AHRC? In other words, is it decision-making or work which is being passed down the line.

  • Will universities or the AHRC be legally liable for ensuring compliance with equal opportunities legislation in relation to the awards?

  • If the awards are made for three years and the block grants are made for five, will a student who is given an award towards the end of the five year period continue to receive an award even if the block grant is reviewed and discontinued at his/her institution?

  • How will decisions about the appropriate coverage of areas be made within the AHRC?

Given our emphasis on diversity, we welcome

  • the continuation of the open scheme of application to accompany the block grant provision;

  • the emphasis on awards to excellent applications from individuals rather than research teams;

  • the continuing provision for professional practice funding and on the possibilities of research through creative practice;

  • the requirement that subject areas will need to be identified as part of the proposal though there is relatively little information about how the AHRC would judge and seek to remedy the situation in which certain subject areas are underrepresented in the proposals submitted.

Christine Geraghty
December 2006

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