Hefce review welcomed

A panel created to consider the future of the £10m Museums, Galleries and Collections Fund has ended a period of uncertainty for university museums
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Rob Sharp
The recent announcement of a review of a key £10m fund that supports higher education museums, galleries and collections has ended a period of uncertainty for university museums.

An independent panel has been created by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce) to “establish the Museums, Galleries and Collections Fund’s continued fitness for purpose and set priorities and future funding levels from 2017-18 onwards”.

The fund’s review, which is being overseen by Imperial War Museum director-general Diane Lees, will consider which institutions receive funding against criteria including research impact, public engagement and financial sustainability. Initial feedback will be shared this autumn, with a final decision announced next spring.

End to uncertainty

Paul Smith, the director of Oxford University Museum of Natural History and the co-chair of the University Museums Group (UMG), says: “The sector is reasonably relaxed, particularly since Diane Lees, who is chairing the review, emphasised that it will focus on research and scholarship, including teaching and public engagement. It’s a relatively small pot of money, but it does an awful lot for university museums. It enables us to lever in quite a significant amount of money off the back of it because it’s stable income. When we heard that the review was going ahead, it ended a period of significant uncertainty.”

This is a time of upheaval in higher education, with legislation to split funding for teaching and research distributed by Hefce between two new bodies, the Office for Students, and UK Research and Innovation. And after Whitehall’s restructuring in July, research will be overseen by the newly formed Department of Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, while the Department for Education will take responsibility for higher education.

Hefce higher education policy adviser Anna Lang says there were representatives from more than 50 university museums and collections at a meeting for the review process on 30 June.

“It was quite evenly spread between those that we currently fund and those that we don’t,” she adds.

“We expect there will be an increase in submissions [from the last review].”

The UMG has had a busy summer. In July, it announced details of its annual conference, which takes place this month and will explore themes surrounding “a climate of increasing drive towards greater partnership working”, focusing on recent case studies of civic and university partnerships, and international collaboration. Panellists will include Arts Council England area director Hedley Swain and Sarah Posey, the head of collections, interpretation and learning at Royal Pavilion and Museums Brighton and Hove.

Kate Arnold-Forster, the head of university museums and collections at the University of Reading and co-chair of the UMG, says: “What is interesting is the interplay between university museums and local authority museums. In some areas, university museums are taking the lead in the civic museum world. That’s part of what the conference hopes to explore. We very much want to attract people from beyond university museums.”

Lees says: “I look forward to reading about the interesting and innovative research-related activities going on in the higher education museums and galleries sector. Within the funding available, we will be seeking to make funding recommendations for the highest-quality education in museums, galleries and collections in England.”
University museums
Museums regularly accessible to public         100 approx

Museums used mainly for academia              300+

As percentage of total UK museums              4%     

Percentage of nationally/internationally         30%
important collections in university museums

Source: University Museums Group website

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