Three-D Issue 27: Report on meeting with ESRC and AHRC on research council funding of the field

On October 7th Natalie Fenton, Peter Golding and John Downey met with representatives of the ESRC and AHRC to discuss research funding for our field in the light of a MeCCSA commissioned report, which revealed low and inconsistent levels of research funding and a pronounced tendency to fund principal investigators whose work is based in departments that do not offer undergraduate or postgraduate taught degrees in the field.

The meeting was based around the recommendations in the MeCCSA report, namely:

  1. The AHRC and ESRC should explicitly recognise the fields of media, communication, and cultural studies in their remits permitting researchers to identify themselves as scholars in these fields when applying for funding;
  2. The AHRC and ESRC should revisit their statement on research funding and jointly clarify how they will fund research in these fields in the future (for example, which topics and methods are appropriate to which funding council);
  3. The AHRC and ESRC should collect data about the number, size and provenance of failed and successful applications for research funding made in the field on an annual basis;
  4. The AHRC and ESRC should make sure that the field is adequately represented in peer review colleges and that appropriate reviewers are appointed to review proposals;
  5. The AHRC and ESRC should appoint leading academics from the field to panels and committees determining funding decisions and strategic direction of the research councils;
  6. The AHRC and ESRC should liaise with MeCCSA in discussing how changes can be made and in evaluating the progress made towards creating a level playing field for research funding for the fields of media, communication and cultural studies in the UK.

With respect to 1., AHRC and ESRC agreed to consult with their research communities, including associations such as MeCCSA, in the development of its new research grants system and the research (primary and secondary) classifications. Julie McLaren, on behalf of AHRC, agreed to consult with MeCCSA in the development of a potential taxonomy for communications, media and cultural studies.

With respect to 2. AHRC and ESRC representatives acknowledged the inconsistencies within the joint statement and agreed that it was timely to review and revise the statement. The AHRC and ESRC welcomed input and from MeCCSA in regard to the refinement of the joint statement.

With respect to 3, the AHRC and ESRC presented data on research funding in the field that painted a considerably brighter picture than the one in the MeCCSA report. The AHRC and ESRC data was based on their own data rather than the publically available data that was used for the MeCCSA report. There was discussion concerning methodologies and categories used in the data collection and analysis. The AHRC and ESRC agreed to refine the dataset and undertake further analysis of the application and grants data relating to media, communications and cultural studies fields.

With respect to 4 and 5, AHRC and ESRC welcomed recommendations from MeCCSA in regard to identifying potential disciplinary and/or expertise gaps on the AHRC and ESRC Peer Review College. Recommendations for potential membership was also welcomed. The AHRC and ESRC agree to circulate to MeCCSA representatives, and where appropriate seek advice on, forthcoming membership opportunities for Advisory and Governance Committees and Grant Assessment Panels. The AHRC and ESRC agreed to refine the advertisement for membership opportunities to explicitly request representation from particular disciplines, fields and/or sectors.

With respect to 6, the AHRC and ESRC agreed to organise a follow up meeting with MeCCSA in January-February 2017.

While the overall tone of the meeting was positive and constructive, MeCCSA representatives were concerned about the discrepancies between the MeCCSA and research council data that showed contrasting pictures of research funding and expressed doubt as to the validity of the data collection method used by the AHRC and ESRC. Since the October meeting we have asked the AHRC and ESRC for clarification a number of times and have offered methodological help in data collection and analysis. To date this has not occurred. In preparation for the next meeting in January and February MeCCSA has commissioned research on the funding of doctoral students in the field by the AHRC and ESRC.

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