Humanities Postgraduates? Preserve of the Rich?

I received a small bursary from the University of Winchester in order to undertake my history PhD … is such a possibility going to become the exclusive preserve of large institutions with huge reserves of money/gifting? I gained a huge amount from being a part of the department, rather than a cog in the wheel!

The University of Oxford has received a multi-million-pound gift for postgraduate humanities study aimed at the world’s most promising scholars amid concern that public funding cuts could make such courses the preserve of elite institutions.

The donation – which will ultimately amount to around £26 million – was made by Mica Ertegun, a renowned interior designer and the widow of Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun. Expected eventually to create at least 35 scholarships for humanities graduates at Oxford every year, the gift is the most generous for the study of the humanities in the institution’s 900-year history.

However, some observers fear that cuts to universities’ public funding will mean that only elite institutions with access to substantial donations and endowment income will be able to fully support postgraduate provision.

Postgraduates are not able to access the publicly subsidised student loans system. A recent report from the 1994 Group of smaller research-intensive universities warned of the dire consequences for postgraduate provision across the sector if future students, laden with debt from higher undergraduate fees, were not offered support for postgraduate fees.

Academic Digital

Humanities Research 'Surfdom'

As someone who was involved in early digital humanities research (building a database of wartime propaganda posters in order to be able to identify themes/patterns in the posters), this story is really interesting:

We are now witnessing what Martin Wynne, Oxford University Computing Services liaison at the Oxford e-Research Centre, describes as “a move from research leave to research grants, with academics required to hire staff and manage teams”. This is obviously more congenial to some people than others, and critics argue that it is a trend driven far more by financial than scholarly goals.

But there is widespread agreement that the developing discipline and funding regime have overcome some of the teething problems. “Digital resources and infrastructure are developed to solve scholarly problems, not as ends in themselves,” says Hotson, “to serve our own projects and interests on the assumption that other scholars have very similar projects.” This avoids the danger of what amounts to academic “deskilling”. And while some earlier initiatives by researchers may have produced obscure and sometimes self-indulgent resources that helped them but were of no use to anybody else, Wynne argues that “reusability, sustainability and visibility” are the guiding principles today.

So how should we regard some of the more grandiose claims that are made for the digital humanities? Open-access projects, we are constantly told, democratise knowledge by making it available to anyone with a computer. “Far from being geared solely to academic questions,” says the website for Linguistic Geographies: The Gough Map of Great Britain, a chart that is thought to date back to the 1370s, “the project team was keen to ensure that our research findings reach the widest possible audiences, not least because maps are enduringly popular objects and always capture the imagination.”

New resources are also said to enable us to interrogate data in different ways and to ask fresh questions, including some that were previously not even imaginable. Since we can never tell what the scholars of the future are going to be interested in, almost anything might turn out to be useful. And if an academic discipline is in decline, digital tools can provide a way of reviving interest.

Such arguments are almost incontrovertible in the abstract, and are amply justified in particular cases, but often seem to be accompanied by very sketchy notions of what might constitute success or failure. Is it too crude to expect a database requiring x thousand pounds of research funding to generate so many thousand hits, five monographs, three spin-off radio programmes and 20 newspaper articles? And when does it become a dubious use of public money to create ever-more-sophisticated resources for disciplines that seem to be in terminal decline?

Read full story.


White Paper: rules may favour the humanities government’s new higher education policies could cut student places in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects and create extra places in cheaper arts and humanities disciplines, vice-chancellors have warned.

A number of senior sector figures are concerned that the core-margin system, unveiled in the government’s higher education White Paper, will deduct places from high-cost STEM subjects and allocate them to cheaper institutions more likely to offer lower-cost arts and humanities places.

Critics also argue that the proportion of AAB students is higher in arts and humanities subjects, creating a further incentive to weight provision towards those disciplines under the new market for elite students.

Some vice-chancellors raised the issue with Prime Minister David Cameron during a meeting at 10 Downing Street last month.

Under the system, universities will lose an average of 8 per cent of their student places, creating a 20,000-strong margin to be auctioned off to institutions – including further education colleges – that offer average fees of less than £7,500.

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Words as weapons @timeshighered

But something more urgent presses upon the day. It seems to me to be the case that a new, drastic hiatus impends in our civilisation, matching two of the great historical splits of the past, those of the 17th and 19th centuries. The old order is breaking down, economically, environmentally, meaningfully. The official forces will fight to the end to restore things as they were; they will fail.

In these circumstances, it will prove the responsibility of university teachers of the humanities – philosophy, history, literature – and like-minded allies in social science to rediscover a language capable of speaking of matters of life and death, whether in lectures, books for the risible research excellence framework, seminars and conferences or, indeed, in the long, drawn-out disputes with management about the whole horrible hoo-ha over balancing the rigged books as handed over by the government. The language to hand is Leavis’, and we had better learn to speak it again before it is too late.

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Democratic Freedom of the Humanities Threatened?

Funding cuts blamed for endangering democratic freedom of the humanities. Matthew Reisz reports

Humanities academics are in danger of being reduced to “intellectual lap dancers” by the radical changes to higher education in England, a history professor has warned.

Speaking at a conference in Cambridge, Richard Drayton, Rhodes professor of imperial history at King’s College London, likened the coalition government’s approach to the way in which Western funders imposed free-market ideologies on developing countries.

“Those who know what ‘structural adjustment’ meant in Africa, Eastern Europe and Latin America in the 1980s and 1990s will recognise what is being applied to Britain in the name of ‘austerity’,” he said.

“A nomadic global pirate class buys ‘onshore’ services from prostitutes and politicians, journalists, mercenaries and academics…(who) can become a kind of intellectual lap dancer, gyrating to excite the attention of the rich and to provoke small tips.”

What was depressing, added Professor Drayton, was that “most British scholars have made only token opposition to these changes”.

“The British Academy has offered cowardly hand-wringing, (while) vice-chancellors and many administrators have been active quislings, merely asking how they can best adapt to the new order,” he said.

Professor Drayton’s withering critique was made at a conference titled The Arts and Humanities: Endangered Species?, which took place last week at the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities at the University of Cambridge.

It brought together leading scholars “to articulate why and how the arts and humanities have been historically understood to matter” and how they should respond to current threats, including cutting the teaching grant for many disciplines.

Read full story, although University of Oxford is offering a larger number of post-doctoral Fellowships that usual to fight the tide, and an article by Adam Roberts which indicates that ‘the end is not nigh‘.