Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the British Academy

  1.1  The British Academy, established in 1902 by Royal Charter, is the national, UK-wide, academy for the promotion of the humanities and social sciences. Composed of c. 750 Fellows, it is a working Academy: it both recognises and represents the best of British research in the humanities and social sciences; it organises wide-ranging programmes of activities and events at a variety of levels as a learned society; and it also acts as a grant-giving agency.

  1.2  In Britain, unlike many other countries, there is no single national Academy of Sciences. Broadly speaking, the British Academy acts in regard to the humanities and social sciences in the same way that the Royal Society acts in regard to the physical and biological sciences. In its grant-giving, moreover, the Academy offers distinctive forms of funding which do not duplicate but complement those provided by the Economic and Social Research Council and the Arts and Humanities Research Board.

  1.3  Stated more formally, the aims and objectives of the British Academy, which are reviewed each year by its Council, are:

    —  to represent the interests of the humanities and social sciences nationally and internationally;

    —  to give recognition to excellence;

    —  to promote and support advanced research;

    —  to further international collaboration and exchanges;

    —  to promote public understanding and appreciation of the humanities and social sciences;

    —  to publish the results of research.


  2.1  The British Academy receives a Government grant-in-aid through the Department for Education and Skills which in 2002-03 totals £13 million, of which £1.7 million is for administration. The allocations for the various programmes of activities are as follows:
Research programmes £
International programmes
    Exchanges and joint activities 725,000
    Overseas Institutes etc3,300,000
Publication and activities programmes
    Meetings and conferences187,000
    Public Understanding195,000

  2.2  In addition the Academy has a small private endowment, mainly for restricted purposes as laid down by the original donor or benefactor; it levies an annual subscription from the Fellows; and it receives grants from a variety of private research foundations. The sums raised are of the order of £750,000 to £1 million annually.

  2.3  Of the £1.7 million available from the grant-in-aid for administrative expenses, £265,000 is paid to the Crown Estate in rent for the Academy's premises in 10 Carlton House Terrace. Other occupants of the building, who include the Foundation for Science and Technology and the London offices of the Arts and Humanities Research Board and six overseas British research institutes, contribute c £90,000 towards the rent, and an additional sum of c £100,000 is raised from charges to external bodies which hire rooms for meetings and conferences. The Academy of Medical Sciences occupies three rooms in the building rent-free (on which see further below, para 5.2).


  3.1  The Academy's principal activities take three main forms (a) research programmes; (b) international programmes; (c) publications, meetings and other events.

(a)   Research Programmes

  3.2  Grants During the past year the Academy has made over 1100 awards under its various grant schemes (more than twice the number made by the ESRC and AHRB combined). The awards mostly consist of small grants (up to £5,000) to individuals in support of their personal research (as opposed to the grants for institutionally-based research projects which are provided by the research councils); and conference grants, to ensure that leading British research is adequately represented at conferences abroad and that key speakers from overseas can take part in similar meetings in this country. There is within these schemes an emphasis on the work of younger scholars. About one-third of the grants go to social scientists and two-thirds to researchers in the humanities. The Academy operates in wholly responsive mode.

  3.3  Projects Project support goes notably (£330,000) to the New Dictionary of National Biography, due to be published in 2004, c. 15 per cent of whose research costs have been contributed by the Academy, the remaining 85 per cent being found by the Oxford University Press[2]. The remainder (£520,000) goes to some forty long-term collective research undertakings, many of them the British contribution to international projects. (As a result of the creation of the AHRB, and after a transitional period, the Academy is bringing to a close its support for the present portfolio of projects from the end of March 2003.)

  3.4  Posts In all there are some 125 individuals in universities who are currently holders of research posts supported by the Academy:

    —  each year 30 appointments are made to three-year postdoctoral fellowships. The holders will have recently completed a PhD, and will be enabled to obtain experience of independent research and teaching in a suitable university environment and helped to improve their prospects of obtaining permanent academic posts by the end of their fellowship;

    —  thirteen two-year research readerships are awarded each year. They are intended to relieve established mid-career researchers of their normal teaching and administrative commitments, so that they may undertake or complete an approved programme of sustained research which will not only be an important contribution to knowledge but also help to enhance their future careers;

    —  there are three holders of British Academy research professorships, tenable for three years and designed for established senior researchers who have already published works of distinction in their field.

  In these last two schemes the Academy meets the cost of a substitute post, rather than the stipend of the award-holder, so that, in addition to providing an opportunity for advanced research, there is an opening for a younger researcher to gain experience and become established in the academic profession.

  3.5  Policy Research sponsored by the Academy may well turn out to have implications for public policy or provide understanding of the context and constraints within which policy decisions will be made. But the Academy has in addition developed mechanisms to mount independent, research policy related studies and to provide advice to the Government and other public bodies on issues relating to the humanities and social sciences. Examples include The inclusion of the humanities and social sciences in the EU's 6th Framework Programme; Devolution and the arts, the humanities and the social sciences (jointly with the Royal Society of Edinburgh); and A Review of graduate studies in the humanities and social sciences (all 2001). The major study currently under way is concerned with The contribution of the humanities and social sciences to the knowledge-driven economy. The Academy also responds to consultation documents issued by a wide variety of bodies, concerning such topics as the British Library's acquisitions policy, the Government's Green Paper on the reform of the school curriculum: 14—19, and the AHRB's review of its postgraduate support arrangements.

(b)   International Programmes

  3.6  The Academy's own international activities include:

    —  maintaining relations with overseas academies and research organisations with a view to promoting academic visits and exchanges and such other forms of international collaboration as may advance the interests of the humanities and social sciences in general and of researchers from the UK in particular;

    —  administering a series of grant schemes for British researchers, concentrating on the support of collaborative work—projects and networks; and

    —  overseeing the Academy's membership of appropriate international organisations such as the Union Académique Internationale, ALLEA (All European Academies) and the European Science Foundation.

  3.7  In addition the Academy provides core funding for twelve UK-based organisations, seven which maintain research institutes overseas[3], four which sponsor research abroad[4], and the Council for British Archaeology. The underlying objective in providing core funding is to maintain, and where possible extend, the traditional strengths and standing of British research, by providing (a) the means to enable British researchers across a wide range of disciplines in the humanities and social sciences to undertake original work, including fieldwork in areas of major interest overseas; and (b) a base, where appropriate and/or necessary, which provides a range of academic and logistical support services in those areas, including buildings and residential accommodation, computing services, and library, or archival facilities. In relation to the Council for British Archaeology, the Academy seeks to enable the CBA to promote the study and protection of Britain's historic environment; to provide a forum for archaeological opinion; and to inspire public interest in, and knowledge of, Britain's past.

(c)   Publication and activities programmes

  3.8  Publications The publications programme forms a significant and expanding part of the Academy's activities. During the course of the present year the Academy expects to publish 25 to 30 new volumes: the texts of the Academy lectures and conference papers; Centenary Monographs, celebrating the best of British research in the humanities and social sciences in the past 100 years and looking forward to the challenges of the next; monographs by postdoctoral fellows; and volumes arising from research projects—in particular, editions of historical documents and illustrated catalogues of artefacts. Although the publishing programme is financed from the Academy's Public Account, in recent years the Publications Fund has recouped its expenditure from income and has therefore made no call on the grant-in-aid.

  3.9  Meetings The Academy organises some six to eight conferences each year under its own auspices, and others in collaboration with other bodies, the Royal Society and the Academy of Medical Sciences among them. These meetings are in addition to lectures, some in privately endowed series, held in London and in universities around the country. Attendance at all the events in London has increased significantly since the Academy moved into its present premises.

  3.10  Public Understanding Different kinds of meetings are also organised, for less specialised audiences, intended to increase public appreciation of research in the humanities and social sciences. Some take place in London, others elsewhere. Examples include: a session at the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 2001 on From Scribe to Scanner: Computers, Images and Ancient Documents; lectures for sixth-form pupils given by leading economists; and a discussion meeting in collaboration with the Institute of Contemporary Arts on Do we need to reclaim literature from the academic critics? A book prize was initiated in 2001 and is being organised again this year, to celebrate works that are not only of the highest academic standard but also accessible to non-specialist readers. And an internet-based media service, an extension to the AlphaGalileo service covering science, has been launched to increase press coverage of research stories in the humanities.

  3.11  As part of its strategy for increasing public understanding and appreciation of the humanities and social sciences, the Academy is actively developing its website with the aim that it becomes a "first port of call" for researchers, academics, and interested members of the general public. In particular the objective is to promote the Academy's public understanding activities, and to provide more information both about the research which the Academy has funded and about the Academy itself. In July 2002 the Academy is launching PORTAL, its directory of electronic resources for researchers in the humanities and social sciences. The site has been developed with the assistance of Fellows of the Academy, its postdoctoral fellows, and graduate students, and offers easy access to online information about research resources. PORTAL covers the whole range of subjects which fall within the Academy's remit. Links to numerous types of resource are included such as texts of major works, images of artworks and artefacts, datasets, maps, and dictionaries and encyclopaedias. The various sites to be found via PORTAL have been selected because they have high quality, substantial content and potential utility, because their ownership is responsible, and because the material is accessible without subscription and kept up to date.


  4.1  The Academy is composed of approximately 750 Fellows, elected for their distinction in their various subjects. Each year, under the Academy's statutes, a maximum of 35 elections can be made, and customarily half the Fellows elected come from humanities and half from social science disciplines.

  4.2  Election to the Academy is for life (the average age at election is 54). The running of the Academy is restricted to Fellows under the age of 70, and most of the work falls on those still in academic posts.

  4.3  The electoral process is rigorous and careful. It combines the preparation of written citations, thorough discussion, a secret ballot, consolidation and discussion of lists in the humanities and social sciences respectively, a recommendation by the Council of the Academy, and the formal approval of the Annual General Meeting. Recently, in a wide-ranging consultation, all university Vice-Chancellors and heads of related research institutions such as national libraries, museums and galleries were invited to suggest possible names from within their institutions of researchers suitable for election to the Fellowship. These are now under consideration by committees of the appropriate disciplinary Sections.

  4.4  The Academy is careful to monitor the distribution and representation of academic subjects in elections, the spread of institutions, and the gender of candidates. The Council sets out "guideline" figures for each subject, based on an agreed benchmark. Selection panels are enjoined to scrutinise the claims of all eligible candidates across the university spectrum, concentrating especially on those institutions and departments highly rated in the Research Assessment Exercise. As regards gender, 21 per cent of those elected to the Fellowship over the last three years have been women (a rising trend over the past 15 years)—the percentage of women university professors in the humanities and social sciences is 14 per cent.

  4.5  Among the duties of Fellows, which they perform without remuneration, is the assessment of all applications made to the Academy for research support. This constitutes a resource of substantial value to the research community in the humanities and social sciences which makes no call on the grant-in-aid.


  5.1  The Academy employs a staff of 30. Since 1998 it has occupied 10 Carlton House Terrace on the Crown Estate, a move which thus brings the Academy into close and useful physical proximity to the Royal Society. The premises give the Academy for the first time in its history,[5] a suitable number of public rooms, which have enabled it to organise properly its own academic meetings, workshops, lectures and symposia, and to offer its facilities as a service to the research community and the public at large.

  5.2  When the Academy was first offered the lease of 10 Carlton House Terrace, the building was in poor condition internally, and an expensive refurbishment programme had to be mounted. The necessary money was raised by the Academy privately (including contributions from the Fellows themselves), and from charitable and research Foundations. The largest single contributor was the Wellcome Trust, to which the Academy and the Royal Society submitted a joint application for assistance with the development of facilities in the two adjoining buildings (No 6 and No 10), in order to promote all aspects of the natural and the social sciences and the humanities. Both bodies were keen to build on their existing collaboration, and since they have a joint concern in representing the interests of learned societies in their respective fields they wished to be able to provide services and facilities to both their respective communities. The Wellcome Trust made a generous grant of £1.8 million in response, of which £1 million went to the Academy for the refurbishment of its building. The one condition attached was that the fledgling Academy of Medical Sciences (AMS) be granted rent-free accommodation for a period five years in order to help it to become established. The AMS occupies three rooms in 10 Carlton House Terrace, and although it pays no rent at present it does pay for the services provided to it. The rent-free period comes to an end in early 2003 and negotiations are in progress between the two Academies to agree the precise basis for payment of an equitable share of the rent thereafter.

June 2002

2   A special grant for this purpose was provided by the then Department for Education and Employment in 1992, which has since been consolidated within the overall grant-in-aid. Back

3   The British School at Rome; the British School at Athens; the British School of Archaeology at Ankara; The British Institute in Eastern Africa; the British School of Archaeology in Iraq [in abeyance]; the British Institute of Persian Studies; The Council for British Research in the Levant. Back

4   The Egypt Exploration Society; the Society for Libyan Studies; the Society for South Asian Studies; The Committee for South-East Asian Studies. Back

5   From 1928 to 1982 the Academy occupied accommodation assigned to it rent-free by the Government, in 6 Burlington Gardens and later in Burlington House. Thereafter the Academy, having outgrown the space assigned, moved to 20-21 Cornwall Terrace in Regent's Park on the Crown Estate. Back

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Prepared 6 August 2002