British Academy, London, 8 December 2016
The event, sponsored by the British Academy, RCUK, and HEFCE, brought together a range of leading academics and practitioners in order to reflect on the place and role of interdisciplinary research within the broader academy.
Reports in recent months from the British Academy, HEFCE and other bodies have raised the profile of the interdisciplinary issue within UK academia. Furthermore, its inclusion in the Stern Review ensures that it will remain of significance for the current REF cycle. The meeting was not a critical enquiry into the positive and negative aspects of interdisciplinarity and associated methodologies, with the working assumption being that it was a thing of value and needed pushing forward. For an interdisciplinary Area Studies audience, greater awareness of the levels of interdisciplinary work undertaken on a daily basis in university departments throughout the UK might have been displayed. At the same time, it became evident during the course of the event that the issue with interdisciplinarity is less to do with the work currently being carried out, and more to do with the inadequate nature of formal assessment criteria, support infrastructure and incentive frameworks.
The morning sessions explored the broad policy landscape with the HEFCE representative, in particular, providing useful insight into current trends. The recently published HEFCE reports are worth a look in this regard: http://www.hefce.ac.uk/pubs/rereports/Year/2016/interdis/Title,110229,en.html .
Discussion during this morning session was general in nature and prefaced the more focussed afternoon sessions which were split into parallel ‘Research assessment and funding’, ‘Research development and careers’ and ‘case study’ sessions.
Building on the recommendations found within the Stern Report, there was some discussion about the different ways in which interdisciplinarity might be incorporated into the second REF process. There was, for example, discussion around the use of ‘interdisciplinary’ champions on sub-panels, which was met with general support by those in attendance. Discussion also covered the ways in which interdisciplinarity is currently internalised within the peer-review process. There was broad agreement that existing processes tended to favour proposals with a clearer disciplinary root. As part of this discussion, the Wellcome Trust representative provided a useful insight into its own current research funding activity and made a strong case for its natural affinity with the riskier aspects of interdisciplinary work.
There was focussed discussion around the difficulties of advancing a career founded on interdisciplinarity, with the general sense being that this type of career path was difficult to advance in a coherent manner. The considerable range of disciplines represented at the meeting ensured that it was difficult to get any real sense of how to address this perceived issue in an effective manner. At the same time, it should be noted that having attended the ‘Research assessment and funding’ panel, I was unable to attend the parallel panel on ‘Researcher development’ where this issue would have attracted more focussed discussion.
In general, it was instructive to note how the link between innovation and interdisciplinarity is largely assumed, although one or two comments from the floor did at least raise the methodological challenges presented by interdisciplinary research. Nevertheless, the potential issues associated with this type of research were largely avoided. In view of the increasingly visible role of interdisciplinary research, there does some scope for the Area Studies community to maintain its input and guidance in this area drawing upon its considerable experience (methodologically, conceptually, managerially etc).
More details concerning the event (including the agenda and speakers) can be found here:
Jon Oldfield, University of Birmingham
United Kingdom Council of Area Studies Associations (UKCASA)
Ordinary General Meeting
2.30pm 29 June 2016
Venue: UCL Institute of the Americas, UCL, 51 Gordon Square, London
Tony Chafer, The Association for the Study of Modern and Contemporary France, ASMCF (President);
Emma Linnemann, University Association for Contemporary European Studies, UACES;
Tony McCulloch, British Association for Canadian Studies, BACS;
Uta Balbier, British Association for American Studies, BAAS;
Rajesh Venugopal, British Association for South Asian Studies, BASAS;
Michael Charney, SOAS;
John Fisher, Society for Latin American Studies, SLAS;
Paul Starkey, British Society for Middle Eastern Studies, BRISMES;
Rikki Morgan-Tamosunas, Association of Contemporary Iberian Studies, ACIS;
Susan Hodgett, British Association for Canadian Studies, BACS (Treasurer);
Jon Oldfield, British Association for Slavonic and East European Studies, BASEES (Secretary).
Mark Gant, Brian Ward
The meeting was opened by a talk from Professor Michel Hockx, SOAS, former Chair of the British Association of Chinese Studies. The talk was entitled ‘LBAS, HEFCE PSS, and UK Area Studies’ and reflected upon recent changes in support for Chinese studies, and Area Studies in general, within the UK HE sector.
Professor Hockx began by considering changes in the character of Chinese Studies within the UK over the course of the last two decades. He noted the generally positive trends in terms of student numbers over this period and the associated increase in institutional support. In addition, he underlined the tendency for the sector to rely on non-British academics pointing at an issue with access to postgraduate level training for UK students.
Professor Hockx then reflected on the shifting terrain of national initiatives aimed at supporting language-based areas studies in general e.g. 2006-12 LBAS initiative funded by the ESRC /AHRC and the more recent AHRC-funded initiative in this area (2012-15). It was within this context that the HEFCE Postgraduate Support Scheme (PSS) emerged (2014-15) with a focus on benefiting students at PGT level. Successful initiatives under the scheme included an LBAS consortium led by SOAS (partner institutions included: BICC, WREAC, CASAW) which was focused on the Arab World, China, Japan, Korea, South Asia. The consortium provided 2-year MA Programmes with scholarship support with an emphasis on language training either as part of the disciplinary Masters or else running in tandem with the Masters programme. The initiative was also supported by outreach events and additional training.
The scheme was successful in assisting the movement of UK students into these subject areas in 2014-15. As part of a series of concluding remarks, Professor Hockx noted that Area Studies in the UK remained heavily shaped by Anglophone paradigms, whereby the integration of language training/specialisms into Area Studies is seen as problematic.
- Apologies were received (see above).
- Previous minutes and matters arising
A few typographical errors were noted in the minutes and these would be corrected.
The Chair reported that issues of accessing the website had now been resolved and the website had been updated. He asked member association representatives to check that relevant details were correct and up to date.
3.Susan Hodgett outlined the work of the new AHRC-supported initiative ‘Blurring Genres Network: Recovering the Humanities for Political Science and Area Studies’. This project will put in place a network of scholars and policy-makers to explore innovations in theory and practice in recovering the research methods of the Arts and Humanities encouraging their use by Political Scientists, Area Studies scholars and policy-makers in the UK and beyond. The initiative will run over 18 months and consist of 6 meetings:
- Politics as Drama – SOAS, University of London – Tues. 28 June 2016
- Policy as Stories and Narratives – Home Office, London – Friday 18 November 2016
- Politics as History – Manchester University – Monday 27 February 2017
- Politics as Anthropology – University of Southampton – Friday 23 June 2017
- Politics as Literature – University of California Berkeley – Wed. 6 September 2017
- Politics as Philosophy – Ulster University – Friday 17 November 2017
Information concerning the scheduled events will be disseminated to members of UKCASA.
4.Report on Chair’s work (since November 2015)
- The proposed meeting with the REF Manager had not taken place as no REF Manager was currently in place.
- The Chair had met with Ben Johnson – Higher Education Policy Adviser at HEFCE and currently responsible for overseeing REF 2020 preparations. HEFCE is waiting to see the findings of the Stern Review which are due early July. If the Stern Review is forthcoming in July, HEFCE will aim to publish consultation documents on REF 2020 during the autumn 2016. Further delay in the basic outline of REF 2020 may well see the census date pushed back. There seems to be no real appetite in HEFCE for major changes to Panel configurations.
A key area of interest for HEFCE with regard to the REF 2020 process is interdisciplinarity. The Chair highlighted the following report: Review of the UK’s Interdisciplinary Research, http://www.hefce.ac.uk/pubs/rereports/Year/2015/interdisc/Title,104883,en.html, which members may be interested in accessing.
Linked to this, it was noted that HEFCE is interested to meet with the Areas Studies community in order to discuss interdisciplinarity and the REF.
- It was noted that as a number of member associations were not actively using Twitter accounts, communication from UKCASA remained predominantly via email.
As part of this, member representatives were now being emailed requests for oral/written evidence from the Parliamentary Outreach group.
- Susan Hodgett and the Chair met with representatives of the British Academy in connection with the BA’s own project on interdisciplinarity. The associated report will be launched on the 12 July 2016.
- The Chair had made a submission to the Stern Review on behalf of UKCASA. He noted that the document reflected key points articulated by member associations. It was also noted that other member associations had responded independently.
- The Chair had consolidated links with the Arts and Humanities Alliance and had attended their January meeting. This had included discussion of the AHRC’s Doctoral Training grant initiative.
- The Chair asked for further views on interdisciplinarity from member associations.
- Future activities: the Chair flagged a possible 1-day UKCASA event (e.g. to be held at the British Academy).
He also suggested that member associations might consider convening a cross-disciplinary /comparative panel at their annual conferences in order to strengthen the position of Area Studies.
- Treasurers/ membership report – Susan Hodgett noted no change in membership since November.
The association’s financial resources were gradually decreasing and currently stood at: £1119.28.
The Chair requested approval to pay a small honorarium (£150) to the postgraduate who had assisted in revamping and updating UKCASA’s website. This was agreed.
- Member Association announcements
Members reported healthy activity with respect to their own subject associations.
Second AHRC funded seminar of the Blurring Genres Research Network in SOAS
Thursday 17th November 2016
Places will be on a first come first served basis. We would be delighted to have attendees from UKCASA members and UKCASA, President Tony Chafer will speak.
The first seminar was very exciting intellectually and I hope this one will be the same. We look forward to welcoming you there. We hope attendees will include academics (humanities, social science, others) and policy makers.
Anyone interested please contact Susan Hodgett: firstname.lastname@example.org
Minutes of the UKCASA Ordinary Meeting 9.11.2015, UCL, SSEES
Building, 16 Taviton Street, Room 432
Present: Tony Chafer (ASMCF, Association for the Study of Modern and Contemporary France, UKCASA President), Susan Hodgett (British Association for Canadian Studies and UKCASA Treasurer), Insa Nolte (African Studies Association of the UK), …
The president expressed his thanks to organisers of conference Area Studies in the 21 st Century for hosting the meeting and including UKCASA delegates in the lunch. He announced that no nominations for secretary had been received yet and suggested discussing the issue again under AOB.
2. Notes from Feb 2015 meeting with REF representatives
One error in minutes, correction: Vice President of the Association is Insa Nolte.
3. Matters arising
It was discussed whether the Association should move to annual subscription rather than asking for money when needed. There was no strong feeling that there was a need for change.
4. President’s report on recent actions
The UKCASA Website was originally set up by John Canning at Subject Centre for Languages Linguisics and Area Studies (LLAS) in Southampton which has now lost its funding. The details of how to access template may have been lost. John Canning’s email cannot be removed. If that cannot be changed, the website may have to be moved.
The president set up a twitter account (@THEUKCASA) (to communicate Foreign Office requests for expert evidence).
The president met with the Arts and Humanities Alliance, whose members are concerned about the impact of the comprehensive spending review. McKinsey recommended the abolition of HEFCE, QR and other major university funding sources and their replacement by Research UK. If that were to come to pass, one worry is that funding especially in the Arts Humanities and Social Sciences might be drastically reduced; all funding will be (large) project based. Area studies were not strongly represented in new AHRC doctoral training programme.
The president has also been invited to the BA for a meeting later in the academic year.
5. Responses to Questionnaire to Member Associations, Priority Actions for 2016
The overwhelming response by member associations was that Area Studies should stay in Main Panel D (Arts and Humanities) but should (also) include social scientists. One concern was that interdisciplinary research should be made more visible.
Many responses were positive about the possibility of UKCASA organising events and suggested events should be organised on cross-cutting themes, i.e. migration, the growing Chinese presence globally, tourism, citizenship and belonging. The president will raise this with the BA. In the past similar conferences/ events were poorly attended, so it might be interesting to embed such UKCASA events into Area Studies conferences.
Responses were evenly split on membership fees.
The President suggested that this meant UKCASA’s mission included 1. bringing awareness to universities that Area Studies Panel exists and that a submission is valuable; 2. discussing international bids for funding and conferences; and 3. playing a more active role in supporting modern foreign languages at school and university level (even though many people already work on this).
Susan Hodgett pointed out that UKCASA has played an important role in maintaining Area Studies in REF. Once a new REF manager has been appointed, Tony Chafer will meet him early on to ensure there is no retreat. UKCASA was also able to nominate many REF panel members.
Delegates agreed that UKCASA’s case might be strengthened by finding out how big the membership of member associations is. Delegates also discussed how to organise additional events. In addition to encouraging panels across areas (e.g. migration) in Area Studies Conferences, UKCASA could also encourage comparative discussions on forms of interdisciplinary work in Area Studies, or on the different ways in which knowledge on different areas is constructed through different intellectual traditions etc.
Most associations have renewed their support for UKCASA, which now has £1,200.73. This should be enough for the year if no major events are planned.
Announcements from Member Associations
All organisations in relatively good shape – annual/ biennial conferences are planned and levels of activity are stable. It appeared to some observers that European Studies was not quite as healthy as South Asian and to a lesser degree African Studies.
There were no volunteers for the position of the Secretary.
Susan Hodgett (Ulster University), Rod Rhodes (Southampton), and Mark Bevir (University of Berkeley) have received funding from the AHRC for a research network: ‘Blurring Genres Network: Recovering the Humanities for Political Science and Area Studies’.
The network will bring together experts to explore the ways in which research methodologies associated with the Arts and Humanities are being recovered by political scientists, area studies scholars and policy makers internationally.
Statement from HEFCE
The Government has asked us to consider what support may be required for subjects in order to avoid undesirable reductions in the scale of provision. We use a mixture of quantitative and qualitative evidence to forecast and monitor the availability of subjects on a regular basis. Where we consider there to be significant evidence of risk to the future availability of a subject, alongside evidence of the strategic importance of this subject, there may be a need for intervention.
Our new policy takes account of the broad changes in the funding of higher education. We are currently inviting views on this approach to SIVS through our consultation on teaching funding. The deadline for responses is 25 May 2012. The Board paper below also sets out in more detail our new policy in this area.
Full details on HEFCE website