A leg-up for arts funding

After 40 years of exclusion, the arts and humanities have finally got their own research council. Arabella Schnadhorst investigates the impact of a long-awaited decision

It's taken 40 years but at last the arts and humanities have a research council of their own. It will mean more influence and access to better funding, but what will be the impact on postgraduate studies and research?

It's taken 40 years but at last the arts and humanities have a research council of their own. It will mean more influence and access to better funding, but what will be the impact on postgraduate studies and research?

Meg Mosley admits that she has never taken quite as much trouble over an application form. She was well aware that a grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Board (AHRB), as it was still known last year, was a much-prized source of funding, and would make all the difference to her fine art Masters course at the Slade School of Fine Art in London. "So many of the other MA students were having to find jobs to pay for themselves," she says, "and I just knew that this kind of pressure would put me off my studies."

So she set about giving a detailed account on the grant form of the kind of research she wanted to do. "I am fascinated by the objects that we surround ourselves with, and the nostalgia and meaning that we invest in them. I explained that I wanted to take this further and look at the psychological and social processes by which human identity can be identified by the possession of artefacts. I made sure what I wrote was detailed and clear. It is too easy to sound wishy-washy in this sort of area."

Mosley, now 24, was right. Her obvious passion and clear thinking, along with a first-class honours degree in fine art from Middlesex University, contributed to a successful application and she is now studying full time at the Slade. She has been awarded a maintenance grant of £10,100 per year and course fees of £3,010. She also has a £5,000 disabled students allowance for her dyslexia, to cover equipment and extra teaching support.

She is certainly one of the lucky ones. Only about a quarter of the 5,500 applications for postgraduate funding made to the AHRB last year were successful. Professor Geoffrey Crossick, the head of the newly christened Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), says its top-class funding for top-class students, and the transition from board to council, could make these awards even more attractive. "This is about a lot more than just a name change. For the last 40 years, all the other areas of research have had a research council and the arts and humanities have not.

"We have had to live with the sense that arts and humanities are not an important part of public life and to the wellbeing of the country. We have been excluded from public policymaking and have had to gratefully accept a pot of money from the Government, rather than apply directly for research funds. We have a vital role to play alongside the other research councils and at last this has been recognised."

It has been a frustrating journey. The AHRB was set up in 1998 as an interim body, pending a decision by the Government on the recommendation in the 1997 Dearing report that a research council should be established in the arts and humanities. Until then, the British Academy was responsible for some postgraduate funding in this area, but no body existed to fund arts and humanities research. It took a further six years for the proposal to reach the statute book and 12 months after that, for the board to becoming a fully fledged research council, on the first of this month.

The author of the original report, Ron Dearing - now Lord Dearing - is delighted. "I see the creation of the council as a potential watershed in the fortune of arts and humanities and for the long-term wellbeing of us all in terms of our quality of life and economy."

The AHRC's budget of about £75m is divided between postgraduate funding and research. Some postgraduates are supported on the basis that they will go on to do further research at doctoral level, while other awards focus on preparing the student for professional work.

One AHRC-funded student is doing an MA in modern history at Reading in preparation for an academic career, while another is studying at Tate Liverpool and the Lowry to develop her expertise in art curatorship. However, Alison Henry, the head of the council's postgraduate awards, says the emphasis in this area is set to change. "We are trying to shift the balance so that more funding goes to doctoral rather than Masters awards," she says. "A PhD is the highest quality degree you can get and with limited funds we really ought to concentrate on creating the best stock of academic staff for the future."

But the AHRC is determined to raise the level of training for Masters and doctoral students. "We have been working closely with the other research councils to create a research training framework and we now provide funds to universities to support this training," says Henry. "We want to improve the facilities available to our students during their courses and try to identify clear career paths for them when their studies are completed."

At the end of this year, a new collaborative doctoral awards scheme gets under way, whereby universities will set up PhD projects with non-university organisations such as museums or private companies. The school of arts and social sciences at Northumbria University will be running a project with the county's Healthcare NHS Trust, looking into the impact of photography on the attitudes and behaviours of healthcare staff; and the Institute of Historical Research at the University of London will be joining forces with the Postal Heritage Trust to look into the post office in 20th-century Britain. The AHRC hopes that, by offering a higher than normal grant for these awards, it will attract top-quality candidates.

For those arts and humanities students who want to remain in research after finishing their postgraduate studies, the opportunities offered by the AHRC are enormous. "There has been a key shift in the way arts and humanities research is viewed," says Chris Millward, the AHRC's associate director of research. "It has traditionally been thought that if you work in this area, you don't really need any money for research, you just need office space and time. That is not the case anymore. Big grants are available and they are being put to very valuable use."

The AHRC runs seven different research schemes, with grants ranging from a few thousand pounds to more than a million. At one end of the scale are the research leave programmes, which cover the replacement teaching costs of a scholar finishing a research project, while at the other sit the 19 research centres. "These serve as a hub for research activity across a wide range of disciplines," says Millward. "At a time of significant constitutional change, our Centre for Irish and Scottish Studies in Aberdeen is doing some cutting-edge research into how cultures interact and how identities are formed."

These centres, along with the other postgraduate and research work are, says Millward, absolute proof of the value and need for arts and humanities. "Science research might appear to have more dramatic results, and perhaps in the medical world it does, but that is not to say that arts and humanities research isn't equally valuable. There is no doubt that the study of art, or history, or religion helps us to understand ourselves and the world we live in. It is vital for us and effective government policy."

In fact, when creative industries became one of the fastest growing parts of the British economy in the late 1990s, the Government recognised the need for research and development. A research and knowledge transfer task group has been set up and the AHRC has been commissioned to ensure that universities and creative industries work as closely as possible to guarantee that, where applicable, new and innovative research ideas can be translated into business models and tools for the creative industry. There has been a lot of work into computer-aided design at Edinburgh University and a professor in Sheffield is working closely with architects on a new structural material made out of recycled glass.

Crossick, who is leaving the AHRC in the next few weeks to become warden of Goldsmiths College in London, says that he will be very sad to go. "My only plea is that our funding should become on a more equal footing to the other research councils. I know that science research can be a lot more expensive than arts and humanities research but we get less than a 10th of what most of the other councils receive. Given that our research community makes up one quarter of all researchers in the UK, any extra money would be well deserved and could make a significant difference."

footballLIVE City face Stoke, while Warnock returns to Palace dugout
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
gadgets + echSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind the scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
The slice of Prince Charles and Princess Diana's wedding cake and the original box from 29 July 1981
newsPiece of Charles and Diana's wedding cake sold at auction in US
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Financial Technical Consultant (C++, C#, Finance, MSc, PhD)

£50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Financial Technical Consultant (C++, C#, F...

Year 3 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: Year 3 Teacher Required We are curr...

Year 5 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: Year 5 Primary Teaching positionRands...

Junior Analyst - Graduate - 6 Month fixed term contract

£17000 - £20000 Per Annum Bonus, Life Insurance + Other Benefits: Clearwater P...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone