A final academic tilt at the Big Society?

The Financial Times recently published a report that confirmed the success that British universities have achieved in launching successful fundraising campaigns and developing their donor bases. The 2009-2010 Annual Rose-CASE survey, which evaluates philanthropy amongst UK universities, noted a significant increase in donors over the past year – with numbers rising by 12% and new donations increasing by 10%.  Long may this trend continue. As we all appreciate universities are increasingly vulnerable to cuts and will need to extend their income to retain independence.

The issue of independence is especially germane given current controversy surrounding The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and news that it will spend a “significant” amount of its funding on research related to the government’s Big Society vision.  This follows government “clarification” of the Haldane principle – a convention that for 90 years has protected the right of academics to decide where research funds should be spent.

The implication bluntly is that research bodies must dance to the government’s tune. The Guardian claims that the AHRC was told that research into the “Big Society” was non-negotiable if it wishes to maintain current funding levels at £100m a year.  This ‘strings-attached’ agreement is ethically highly questionable.

Perhaps such is the desperation within Government to give definition and structure to its Big Society concept that this is a final tilt to see what the weight of the UK’s best academic brains can produce. Whatever happens, let’s hope for some academic excellence and independence, Haldane principles or otherwise….

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