March 23, 2008

Research themes

The management at Sussex are introducing interdisciplinary 'research themes' to give the university a distinctive identity and to enable researchers to make more effective bids for large interdisciplinary grants. Resources would be directed towards these themes.

One issue that has been raised in the internal debate on this is that there is a danger of gearing research themes to the current strategic priority areas of the Research Councils, at a time when these strategic priority areas are themselves increasingly dictated by the government. On the latter point see the following from Education Guardian on 19 February:

"There has definitely been a switch from responsive funding for
projects that individual academics think up to funding for projects
that match the AHRC's strategic plans," says Tom Gretton, head of
the history of art department at UCL.

"It is clear that they want research whose findings can easily be
measured. We have moved from research that is critical to research
that is manageable, and in the process academics are being turned
into civil servants, because they will inevitably only submit
proposals for study into areas they know the government think are
worthwhile."

http://education.guardian.co.uk/higher/research/story/0,,2257830,00.html

Obviously the main problem here is the progressive abandonment by the Research Councils of the Haldane Principle that provides the rationale for their existence: the principle that research funding priorities should be set by the academic community rather than by politicians. This abandonment itself represents a serious erosion of the collective freedom of research of the academic community. However if universities then reinforce the Research Councils' priorities in their internal allocations of resources then arguably this erosion will be compounded.

Has anyone had experience of the 'thematisation' of research in response to govenment funding priorities at other universities? If so, please let me know, on or off list.

Andrew Chitty, University of Sussex

1 comment:

Stuart said...

Can anyone explain the even greater threat of budgetry cuts in "big science" at present? It makes absolutely no sense to me to cut fundamental sciences on entering a recession. The simplest explanation is sheer malice by the Coalition of the Willing / industry-focused government (largely UK & US) towards those inconvenient truths.