When the future affects the past
It seems that David Cameron has found a new way in which to ruin the United Kingdoms history of Academic excellence. In todays (27th March) Observer it was reported that Mr Cameron is insisting that the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) use a ‘significant amount’ of its annual £100m research grant to research Cameron’s ‘Big Society’.
Up until this point the AHRC’s funding was protected under the Haldane Principal which decrees that researchers themselves and not politicians should decide where funding is best suited. However during the current coalition government the Haldane Principal has undergone a ‘clarification’. Furthermore it seems that the once hallowed principal must work to the governments national objectives.
The Observer reported that the AHRC was told that if they wished to maintain their £100m annual grant then research into Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ was non-negotiable, and were then forced to accept the changes by officials working for David Willets Minister for Universities and Science. The decision to rework the Haldane Principal has provoked, as one would imagine, strong criticism especially from among British Academics. Chief among these protests has come from Professor Peter Mandler, the Director of research at Cambridge University’s history faculty, who had this to say:
‘They (the government) say it is now their right to set the priorities for how this funding is distributed. They have got the AHRC over a barrel and basically told these guys that have their money unless they incorporate these research priorities”
So it appears that not only is the coalition government content to cut funds to universities causing a massive hike in University fees. But they are also to dictate what people research at the highest level. As an aspiring academic myself (early days though) I am not looking forward to being told what to study.
Professor Collin Jones, president of the Royal Historical Society (RHS) stated in the Observer:
It seems to me to be absolutely gross. In a way the AHRC should be congratulated for securing a good settlement in a difficult spending round, but there is something slightly ignoble about making the big society a research priority
The historian and Labour MP Tristram Hunt went further when he said, ‘It is disgraceful that tax payers money is being spent on this bogus idea’.
A sentiment that I entirely agree with. The fact that the ‘big society’ needs academics to research into what it is just illuminates the fact that even the Prime Minister isn’t sure what it is.