Today I got up, in my opinion, unreasonably early in order to travel to my home institution and attend discussions from the AHRC about their current funding policies.
The key thing that I learnt – to my not very great surprise – was that not only is there less money available but that less of it is likely to come to me.
In the cutthroat world of Humanities Research, for those of you untroubled by such concerns, there are limited ways and means to get someone to give you money. With a few notable exceptions, AHRC is our key resource, it is allocated money by the government (according to the figures we were given today its funding remit is applicable to 27% of researchers and it gets 3% of the governments research money – but I don’t have evidence on that to hand) and as such is accountable for what use that is then put to. This means we have to demonstrate Impact and furthermore to fit in with government idea(l)s we have to facilitate knowledge exchange across communities, furthering ‘Big Society’ and promoting growth in the creative economy.
Or in other words, we have to: Show what we are doing makes a demonstrable difference/initiates changes – ideally by proving our worth to a community and offering ideas for growth or cohesion and/or by using our knowledge to solve real world problems (and ideally make money) by reacting to non-academic demand and moreover we should do this in collaboration with non-academics (be that public, private or voluntary sector companies/trusts etc or within “communities”[unspecified]) and encourage use of their money as well as using them as leverage to apply for more money. In return scholars, in theory, can, as well as get money: collect raw data, use an army of volunteers, find new problem-models and be forced into fresh new ways of approaching and presenting information.
In many respects this is a noble endeavour designed to encourage us out of the dreaded ‘ivory tower’ and into the real world both through engagement and through forcing us to address the applicability of our work. It falls short on the issues of time-scales however. How are we to know what theory developed today might impact work and business in 30 years time? What about work that affects other academics before it can affect the public? (eg my ideas about past approaches to local history writing might impact academic historians who then build that into their own work which can then be theorised into say policy documents for syllabi) What about the stuff thats not fashionable amongst the general public right now (even if it has been in the past or might be in the future)? What about the important work that is done about these knowledge exchange schemes that will affect how the research in them might be conducted in the future but won’t be ready for many years?
It is not that these issues are insurmountable or even that we shouldn’t be considering or building them into our work – though I hope not at the expense of actually trying to gain more knowledge – but more that in order to get the funding to do the research you have to prove the worth of your research which is much more difficult for some disciplines than others and much harder for some early career researchers for example, and in order to do the research you have to get funding. This means tailoring projects in very specific terms and looking for interest groups before you have fully begun.
I am worried, very worried, about where this leaves me as a young classicist. Changes are afoot, and emphasis may need to be changed within my field and within my thesis if I want money to come my way.
More thoughts on this to come when I am less exhausted.
On a completely different topic, I stopped by a Wetherspoons on my home this evening. It happens to be one I have a reasonable amount of respect for their cellarage (cos believe me I would have found another option otherwise) and was delighted to be reminded that it is their annual beer festival.
I can’t say I was hugely impressed by the selection I tried but that might have been a mood thing. They write an adequate set of tasting notes themselves (available on the website) so I shall be less thoughtful
Wooden Hand – Gribben 4.1% : Lighter than I expected both in terms of colour, depth and flavour, I initially thought that it lacked that distinctive Cornish taste but as it warmed in the sun I decided that it still had the peculiar (though to my mind appealing) metallic tang to the nose. Some light fruityness but overall a quaffing ale
Cairngorm – Roggen 4.3%: Amber best bitter. This had quite a pleasant bitterness to the finish which made a good contrast to the gribben. I would never have guessed at rye-grass but maybe I wasn’t trying hard enough, comfortingly full in the mouth but not long-lasting.
Acorn – 1887 (God Made Tangerine) 5%: Sadly not an Orange Wheat Beer (the name is something to do with football apparently) but orange in colour. I think I was a little harsh while I was drinking this because I was really hoping for something special, I quite rate Acorn Old Moor Porter and Gorlovka and have quite enjoyed some of their hop showcases but, dare I say it, this tasted wetherspoonsy, adequate, pleasant even but I wouldn’t bother with a second one. Didn’t have the 5% kick either.
Big City – Jamaica Stout 5%: Another one I had high hopes for, the brewer is in fact from a Jamaican brewery and it was selling well. A good stout in terms of sensible body with enough dryness to not be cloying. Unchallenging but this had a lot of potential – I would really like to try it made in Jamaica and bottled-conditioned and see what difference the water made to the flavour.
Back to work tomorrow to see what delights my own cellar has waiting..