The AHRB and the Funding of Archaeology

Article excerpt

The AHRB (Arts & Humanities Research Board) was established in October 1998, and is now in its second year of operation. A lot has happened in a very short time, in setting up the Board and its operations, in assessing applications and making awards, and in determining strategies and priorities for the future. The funds that the Board has at its disposal now amount to some 50 million [pounds sterling] a year, which brings with it an immense opportunity for research in the arts and humanities, but also an important set of responsibilities. For the Board has to show not only that it can distribute such funds effectively in supporting research of the highest quality; but also how the awards that it makes (:an make a difference not just for the research community, but in enhancing the social, economic and cultural life of the nation at large. It is in this context that we welcome the chance to respond to last September's ANTIQUITY Editorial that commented on the first few months of the Board's operations.

Throughout the period since its foundation, the Board has given high priority to consulting with members of the research community across the arts and humanities, in seeking advice and guidance on its structures, its schemes and its priorities. Professor Paul Langford as Chief Executive and Dr Michael Jubb as Director of Programmes have now visited nearly 100 higher education institutions (HEIs), and have spoken in addition to many learned societies and professional associations. The Board also held last year a series of symposia for representatives of different subject communities, and discussed with them a wide range of issues relating to the Board's strategies and operations.

The research community that the Board serves is large and diverse: over 12,000 academic staff in the arts and humanities were registered as research-active in the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) in 1996, in subject units of assessment ranging from art and design to philosophy, religious studies and law. (We are very much aware, incidentally, of the large numbers of researchers in the arts and humanities who work outside the higher education system; but because we can provide awards only to HEIs funded by one of the UK Funding Councils, we cannot make grants to them.) The programme of consultation has therefore been crucial in ensuring that the Board develops in ways that: maximize the benefits to all parts of the research community in the arts and humanities of the funds that it has at its disposal; and consultation will continue to be a priority. With respect to archaeology, 1999 saw a symposium attended by some 50 archaeologists alongside classicists and ancient historians; Paul Langford and Michael Jubb addressed a meeting of SCUPHA in October; and archaeologists have been prominent in the discussions during a number of visits to institutions. As a result of these discussions, as well as of the experience gained in handling the many applications from archaeologists in the various schemes of awards in both the postgraduate and the research programmes, the Board has developed a good understanding of the interests and concerns of the archaeological research community.

The AHRB and archaeology: the first year

The AHRB is keenly aware of the expectations of the archaeological community. Its members are prominent among the applicants for awards. Archaeologists are not among the largest sections of the research community in the arts and humanities: 371 archaeologists were registered as research active in the 1996 RAE, compared with 308 researchers in classics and ancient history, 1630 in history, and 1578 in art and design. But archaeologists generate large numbers of applications, for research grants in particular. In the most recent round of applications for research grants, for example, archaeologists submitted a total of 80 applications out of a total for all subjects of 435. That represents a considerably higher proportion of applications (18%) than might be expected from just over 3% of the total research-active community in the arts and humanities. …