AHRC and The Big Society

Thom Brooks writes:

I am afraid that I must contact you all one last time. My many thanks to all for signing our original petition calling on the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) to remove all references to the ‘Big Society’ from the its delivery plans for strategic research funding priorities. The petition attracted over 3,200 signatures. A joint statement by over 30 learned societies across the arts and humanities has also been published and widely circulated. We have also urged a mass email/letter campaign.

The results have been disappointing, if not predictable. There have been public statements by the AHRC although these have all failed to address the central issue of the petition: political campaign slogans have no place in research council delivery plans for strategic funding priorities.

Prof Les Green (Oxford) and I have drafted a new petition that I would urge everyone to sign.

The petition says:

“The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) puts public money behind research in English universities. Its new delivery plan for strategic priorities mentions in several places their potential to contribute to the ‘Big Society’ agenda. As everyone knows, the ‘Big Society’ is a political campaign slogan; it is not a field of inquiry in the Arts or Humanities. The term belongs in a political manifesto, not in a document that shape the direction of scholarly research.

More than 3,200 academics have already petitioned for the removal of the ‘Big Society’ from the AHRC plan. More than 30 professional associations in the arts and humanities societies oppose its inclusion. In response to such broad, reasoned and unprecedented opposition, Rick Rylance, the AHRC Chief Executive, has neither given a public justification for including this slogan, nor suggested any amendment that would bring the plan into conformity with the principles of higher education funding to which the AHRC is committed and which taxpayers are entitled to expect.

The signatories of this letter have grave doubts about Professor Rylance’s capacity or willingness to defend these principles. When a campaign slogan finds its way into a spending plan, things go badly wrong. When those responsible for its presence refuse to listen to their stakeholders, things have gone from bad to worse. We again call on Professor Rylance to amend the plan or to explain to the public why he is unwilling or unable to do so.

We are members of AHRC Peer Review College, grant holders, grant reviewers and others with an interest in the integrity of the AHRC.”

The petition is here.