British academy

Research and Higher Education Policy

We provide informed advice to Government, Parliament and other organisations to advocate and promote the value of humanities and social science (HSS) research. We are committed to safeguarding the health and well-being of the HSS research base.

Latest News

5 June 2015: British Academy responds to consultation on support for postgraduate study 

Under the Coalition, the Government opened a consultation on proposals to introduce loans for postgraduate taught master's degrees and to improve support for research students.

The Academy welcomes the opportunity to contribute to this important review, particularly following its previous work in this area. This response notes with enthusiasm the commitment to providing loans for taught postgraduate study. It highlights the complexities of the postgraduate research ecosystem, suggesting that the most efficient and effective method for funding the very best PhD students is through the Research Council studentships. 

12 May 2015: British Academy calls for evidence for new interdisciplinarity project  (PDF file - 156 KB)

The British Academy today launches its call for evidence for a new project on interdisciplinarity in research and higher education.

Interdisciplinary research is of increasing prominence in UK universities and internationally. A greater interest in creating impact from research, not least driven by the recent inclusion of impact in the REF2014; a sense that research should contribute to practical challenges in society; and a need to get value from public money, all contribute to the emergence of research work that crosses disciplines or draws on the work of a multidisciplinary group of research teams. The issue of interdisciplinarity is timely for the major funders, for universities, for academics, and more generally for relations between universities and the high value-added innovative sectors of the wider economy.

The call for evidence will ask individual academics, university management, funders and publishers about their experiences of engaging with interdisciplinarity, the success stories and the challenges. The project will investigate:

• how interdisciplinary research is carried out
• the demand for interdisciplinary research and research skills
• how academics can forge interdisciplinary careers
• whether the right structures are in place to support interdisciplinarity across the research and higher education system.

While the focus is on research, it will also investigate the relation between interdisciplinarity in teaching and research, from the undergraduate level up. And while the focus is on universities, the project will be concerned with the relation between interdisciplinarity in universities and in the wider economy. Read the Terms of Reference.

This project is guided by a Working Group, chaired by Professor David Soskice FBA. The working group membership is:

Professor Graeme Reid, Chair of Science and Research Policy, UCL 
Professor Georgina Born FBA, Professor of Music and Anthropology; Professorial Fellow, Mansfield College Oxford
Professor Colette Fagan, Deputy Dean (& Associate Dean - Research), University of Manchester 
Professor Barry Smith, Director of the Institute for Philosophy, School of Advanced Study  
Professor Julia Black, Pro Director for Research, LSE 
Professor Tom McLeish FRS, University of Durham
Mr Carl Gombrich, Programme Director Arts and Sciences, UCL

24 April 2015: British Academy submits evidence to Nurse Review of Research Councils

This submission by the British Academy highlights the following points:

  1. We strongly support the current structure of dual support for UK research funding. This allows for a common funding ‘ladder’ of grants, of which all parts are an essential component, each enabling and complementing the other. 
  2. Capacity should be maintained for both investigator-led and strategically-led research. 
  3. As per our submission to the triennial review of the research councils, we do not see any benefit in merging the ESRC and the AHRC. 
  4. Indeed, based on the size of the research community in the humanities and social sciences, the quality of the output, and the significance of the challenges we face as a society, there is a strong case for re-examining the low proportion of research council funding currently allocated to the AHRC and the ESRC.  
  5. Enhanced collaboration between the research councils could be achieved through a more prominent role for RCUK.

Building a stronger future

10 February 2015: Making the UK the best place to do research and innovation

The new Government elected in May 2015 has an opportunity to build on our strengths and help make the UK the best place in the world to do research and innovation according to a statement published by the National Academies today (10 February). Building a stronger future sets out what the next Government will need to do to ensure a strong research and innovation base that helps people in the UK lead healthier, fuller and better lives. 

The National Academies urge the next Government to adopt the following priorities in order to make the UK the location of choice for world class research, development and innovation:

  • Place research and innovation at the heart of plans for long-term economic growth. 
  • Secure prosperity by strengthening public investment in research and innovation.
  • Meet demand for research skills through a flexible and diverse workforce.
  • Strengthen policy by embedding expert advice across Government. 

The statement calls on the next Government to create an environment that attracts more industrial and charitable investment in research and innovation, in addition to that from Government. It also emphasises the need for more teachers with specialist subject knowledge at all stages of education. 

1 December 2014: British Academy responds to HEFCE survey on internationalising the REF

The British Academy has responded to the HEFCE survey on internationalising the Research Excellence Framework (REF). The survey sought views on the potential benefits and challenges of expanding the UK’s research assessment system on an international basis. 

The Academy’s response highlights the need for clarity on the model, aims and intended benefits of internationalisation of the REF and also notes issues that might affect the Humanities and Social Sciences in particular.

3 October 2014: British Academy submits evidence to Review of RCUK policy on Open Access

This submission by the British Academy highlights the need for RCUK Policy on Open Access to be sensitive to the distinctive features of publishing in the humanities and social sciences (HSS). It discusses evidence of compliance with the ‘Green’ Open Access embargo periods and considers the impact of a requirement for Creative Commons licensing on HSS.

Find out more about how the British Academy has contributed to the debate on Open Access.  

24 September 2014: Student attitudes to debt and its impact on postgraduate participation

The British Academy commissioned the National Union of Students to research into and produce a report on student attitudes to debt and its impact on postgraduate participation. An online survey of 4211 undergraduates was undertaken.

The report found that debt incurred from undergraduate fees was perceived by students to be a special kind of debt that it is routine to incur. Increased tuition fees, perhaps as a result, are not, it would seem, having a negative impact on student decisions about continuing to postgraduate study, as was initially feared. The report also suggests that the level of information students receive about dealing with debt is low. Moreover, many of those who planned to go onto postgraduate study believed that funding in the form of scholarships and loans was more widespread than in reality is the case. Over 40% of those surveyed intended to fund their postgraduate study through a studentship or scholarship; in reality only 10-20% of students receive this funding.

22 September 2014: Professor Nigel Vincent FBA and Dr Sue Carver (AHRC) at Vitae Conference Workshop 9 September 2014

Professor Nigel Vincent FBA and Dr Sue Carver (AHRC) gave a presentation on the AHRC and British Academy Report ‘Support for Arts and Humanities Researchers Post-PhD’, at a workshop at the Vitae Conference on 9 September 2014. You can read a note on the presentation here. Participants in the workshop included academics, researcher developers and administrative staff with responsibility for graduate matters. Find out more about the Conference

19 September 2014: UK National Academies plan to publish a joint statement ahead of the 2015 elections

The UK National Academies have committed to publishing a joint statement ahead of the May 2015 election outlining how the incoming government can secure the UK’s position as the best place in the world to explore, discover and innovate. Professor Roger Kain CBE FBA outlines a vision for the humanities and social sciences.  

31 July 2014: British Academy responds to Government consultation on Science and Innovation Strategy

The British Academy has responded to the Government’s consultation on its Science and Innovation strategy. This advice develops the common concerns that were emphasised in the joint statement from all four national academies (Aacdemy of Medical Sciences, British Academy, Royal Academy of Engineering, and Royal Society). The British Academy wholeheartedly supports the joint response, including its central proposition that a stable 10 year investment framework and a broad research base are essential for research, innovation and skills. In this response there is a particular focus on how the humanities and social sciences contribute to the UK’s ability to maintain its comparative advantages.

8 July 2014: National Academies respond to Consultation on Proposals for Long-Term Capital Investment in Science and Research

The UK's four national academies - the British Academy, the Royal Society, the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Academy of Medical Sciences - have jointly responded to the Government's Consultation on Proposals for Long-Term Capital Investment in Science and Research.

30 June 2014: British Academy responds to HEFCE's consultation on the role of metrics in research assessment

The British Academy has responded to the Higher Education Funding Council for England's call for evidence for its review of the role of metrics in research assessment. In our response, we emphasise the consensus across all disciplines that the most reliable way to assess research is by means of peer review, and that while metrics may inform the assessments of specialist panels, they cannot be a sustitute for them. 

3 February 2014: Survey for Early Career Academics

The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the British Academy have joined forces to commission Oakleigh Consulting to carry out a study into support for individuals in the Arts and Humanities community immediately following their doctorate, and specifically those who are hoping to pursue an academic career (or began such a career but subsequently left academia).

The purpose of this survey is to add to the understanding of the roles that individuals hold at the early stage of their career, to gather views and experience of the support received, and the support required, to help individual's develop their career and make career choices.

**This survey is now closed. Many thanks to those who participated.**

1 July 2013: Debating Open Access

A collection of eight articles discussing the challenges of open access for the humanities and social sciences edited by Academy Vice-Presidents Nigel Vincent and Chris Wickham

14 June 2013: British Academy responds to the Lithuanian EU Presidency's consultation on the state of the Socio-Economic Sciences and Humanities (SSH) in Europe

The significant challenges facing the EU can only be addressed by looking to solutions from across the entire spectrum of research – medicine, natural sciences, social sciences, humanities and arts. It is vital that the EU provides opportunities for interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary research to address these challenges. And this research must be funded in a stable, long-term manner to provide researchers with the support to discover these solutions, identify how to apply them, and understand the implications for the many and diverse societies which constitute the EU. 

The British Academy also contributed to the response from the All European Academies (ALLEA). That response is available to read on our International policy page.
16 April 2013: British Academy gives evidence to House of Commons select committee inquiry into open access

Professor Chris Wickham, British Academy Vice-President, appeared in front of the House of Commons Business, Innovation and Skills Committee on Tuesday 16 April to give evidence as part of its inquiry into open access. In his evidence, Professor Wickham continued to make the case for a slower, more nuanced approach to implementing open access for research findings, and argued for a better understanding of the issues surrounding licence conditions. You can watch the committee hearing on Parliament TV here.

25 March 2013: British Academy advice to HEFCE on open access and submissions to REF post-2014

The British Academy has offered advice to the Higher Education Funding Council for England to support it in developing the forthcoming consultation on the role of open access publishing in the submission of outputs to the post-2014 Research Excellence Framework.

20 March 2013: British Academy response to RCUK Open Access Policy and Supporting Guidance

The British Academy has responded to the RCUK’s call for comments on its Open Access Policy and Supporting Guidance, published earlier this month. We criticise the limited amount of time given by RCUK to offer comments on such an important policy, particularly in light of the recent report from the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee that noted the lack of previous consultation. In our response, we call on the RCUK to improve the clarity and consistency of its guidelines on embargo periods and licences to take into account the impact on the humanities and social sciences. We also urge RCUK to be clear about how the policy will be reviewed and to engage more widely with universities and subject bodies on any further changes, in order to reflect different publication practices across the full spectrum of disciplines.

13 March 2013: British Academy believes that the current structure of the research councils is effective and contributes to the UK’s highly successful track record in research

For the humanities and social sciences, there is no evidence to suggest that there would be any advantage in changing the current structure and number of research councils. At a time of fiscal constraint, it would be risky to rethink this structure when the prospective benefits of such a move are unproven and are likely to be costly in the immediate short-term.

25 February 2013: Open access implementation should be done well, not quickly

7 February 2013: British Academy submits evidence to House of Commons Business, Innovation and Skills select committee inquiry into open access

30 January 2013: Is Excellent Better Than Best? League Tables in Higher Education

Watch the debate, featuring Professor Michael Arthur, Phil Baty, Professor Harvey Goldstein and Baroness Onora O'Neill. Chaired by Victoria Derbyshire, BBC 5Live.

18 January 2013: Academy submits evidence to House of Lords Science and Technology Select Committee inquiry into the implementation of open access

The British Academy has submitted evidence to the House of Lords Science and Technology Select Committee to support its inquiry into the implementation of open access. We have reiterated our concern that the current policies are being implemented too quickly and without a full understanding of the likely impact on humanities and social sciences disciplines. A particular point of concern is the discrepancy between positions on embargo periods. The Finch Report and the Government both expressed the view that these needed to be considered carefully, with an embargo period of 24 months not being unreasonable. RCUK, however, has stated that the maximum embargo period would be 12 months. It is important to ensure that the policies on open access are appropriate and sustainable rather than rush into a one-size-fits-all approach.