THE reports here that the BIS is considering whether to restrict new postgraduate — and specifically PhD — loans to the sciences. Or, more carefully and revealingly expressed, to restrict loans to ‘specific subjects where the scientific and economic case is strongest’. I’m surprised this even requires consultation, and wasn’t part of the original proposal. The Arts and Humanities Research Council has had real term cuts in its budget of 20% in the past five years, and that budget is already tiny in comparison to the sciences, broadly speaking. (The sciences budgets have ‘merely’ been frozen in the same period, representing a roughly 10% real term cut.) Funding in this area is politically an easy target, and especially if it is framed as a kind of competition between science and humanities funding, rather than a question of overall central research funding. Overall research funding as a proportion of GDP in the UK is already pitifully low — lower than any other large economy other than Italy, Spain, Russia and India. See the data here and (with particular reference to the sciences) here. So, there are two issues here: the blatant sacrifice of the future of the country because of overall funding cuts to research; and the political framing of the issue as only being a choice of what to cut.
UPDATE: A nice piece in the Guardian/Observer today that portrays at length the frustrations felt by those in the arts and humanities. The weak part of the article is that is is long on whining, but short on data. It portrays, for example, the removal of a central grant to these subjects, replacing it with tuition fees, as a ‘cut’. This is simplistic, since humanities and stem subjects were always differentially funded and remain so, to roughly the same extent. Similarly, it bemoans the rising number of technocratic managers and their salaries, without adducing data tht would show how disproportionate this change has been.
By the way, wink-wink-nudge-nudge, to any VC or Dean who really knows what they are up to, humanities and social sciences should be seen as cash cows. No need for expensive labs, high powered computers, technical assistance — even the books and journals we use cost less and have a longer shelf-life.