The Future of AHRC Funding

I recently went to an AHRC briefing event in Leeds and thought that there might be a few key messages that it would be worth sharing on the blog. While they were reluctant to make any real comment about what effect the current recession might have on the future of AHRC funding, three messages came through quite strongly…

1. Competition for AHRC funding is already pretty fierce and, as funding from other sources dries up, it is only likely to get more intense. The broad remit of the AHRC means that 27% of all academic staff in the UK are in a position to apply to them, and that equates to about 14,000 academics.

2. There is increasing pressure for academics to make the ‘impact’ of their potential research clear to the AHRC when they are applying for funding. It is also clear that ‘impact’ does not only mean the contribution that your research will make to disciplinary knowledge, but also to the wider public and society in general. While the AHRC are sympathetic to the fact that some research in some disciplines might have little immediate or direct impact on the public, researchers will have to explain this very carefully in future applications. In order to help future applicants to explain the potential impact of their work, the AHRC has put together a series of case studies on their website at: http://www.ahrc.ac.uk/FundedResearch/impact/Pages/default.aspx

3.  There is likely to be a move away from speculative funding schemes and more towards the strategic themes identified by the AHRC in consultation with the academic community. The next round of strategic themes have not yet been finalised, but the themes currently being discussed are: Digital Humanities, Translating Cultures, Care for the Future and The Art of Science: Knowledge and Creativity. For more information on each of these themes see: http://www.ahrc.ac.uk/About/Policy/Documents/FD%20emerging%20themes.pdf

These three key points clearly have implications for researchers who may be planning to apply for funding in the near future. Firstly, applications will have to be very strong to succeed. Secondly, those who are not successful will need to be increasingly open-minded about where they apply for funding and be willing to spend even more time seeking out alternative funding opportunities. Thirdly, researchers will need to take public engagement and knowledge ‘transfer’ activities much more seriously than in the past – one messgae that emerged from the AHRC funding session that we ran earlier this year was that plans for ‘impact’ have to be well thought out, well planned and clear at the point of application. Finally, researchers may need to think more creatively about their research and how its ‘outputs’ could be maximised. Are there ways in which the research might appeal across diciplinary or national boundaries? Who, other than the disciplinary community, might benefit and how will the research reach them? Who, other than the research councils, might be interested in funding the research, and how could it be packaged to fit easily within their remit?

All of these issues have been addressed in the Research Staff Development workshops that have run so far this year: the writing workshops have focussed on getting ideas across convincingly, clearly and effectively; the AHRC funding session looked in more detail at what is needed in a successful application; yesterday’s session on ‘Research Ownership and Dissemination’ encouraged participants not only to consider who might be interested in their work, but also what barriers prevent dissemination beyond academia and how they might be overcome;  next week’s ‘Alternative Sources of Funding’ workshop will help participants to identify which funding sources are open to them and to come up with a strategy for securing research money; and the ‘Showcasing your Research’ briefing next week will introduce participants to the University Research Showcase that will take place over the summer. We hope that all of these development opportunites will equip our researchers to confront the challenges of securing funding with greater confidence and success.

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