Response to consultation on Arts and Humanities Research Council strategy for 2007-2012

August 2006
1. The Museums Association (MA) is an independent membership organisation representing museums and galleries in the UK and people who work for them. The Association has over 5,000 individual members and 600 institutional members.

These institutional members encompass around 1500 museums in the UK ranging from the largest government-funded national museums to small volunteer-run charitable trust museums. Formed in 1889, it is a charity, receiving no regular government funding, which seeks to inform, represent and develop museums and people who work for them in order that they may provide a better service to society and the public.

A member of Museums Association staff serves on the AHRC's Museums and Galleries Committee.

2. We broadly support the strategy but have a few suggestions that we hope are helpful. These cover two areas: the AHRC's role in advancing training and widening participation. We also have a few comments about AHRC and museums.

Training

3. The AHRC has a crucial role in supporting and advancing training in the arts and humanities, for example through its Professional Preparation Masters Scheme.

The AHRC appears to have a growing interest in the relationships between its work and professional practice (as evidenced for example by the consultation currently being undertaken by Oakleigh Consulting Ltd).

We welcome this as we believe that there is great potential for closer relationships between museums and galleries as employers and HEIs as trainers. (In addition to research-based relationships.)

4. We therefore wonder whether the AHRC's strategy could give a higher profile to training in addition to research (the phrase 'research and training' is already used in, for example, the current objective 4.2).

For example, we would like the AHRC to consider:

· Extending the vision to read 'To be a recognised world leader in advancing arts and humanities research and training.

· Adding a principle about the importance of postgraduate training and the need to relate it to the needs of professional practice.

· Adding a specific objective about advancing training for professional practice (rather than research) in section 2 - perhaps splitting objective 2.1 into two separate objectives, once concerning research methods and the other concerning key skills.

Widening participation

5. Recent research, usefully reviewed for Arts Council England's review of the presentation of the visual arts, shows that relatively few people from minority-ethnic backgrounds study arts and humanities subjects, compared to many other subjects.

We urge AHRC to explicitly attempt to widen participation in arts and humanities research and training.

6. As one example, museums and galleries, like other employers of arts and humanities students, are extremely concerned about the relatively narrow range of backgrounds of new entrants to their workforce.

The majority of applicants for entry-level posts (and the majority of people studying for museum-studies masters qualifications) are white and female. Museums and galleries are particularly concerned about the ethnicity of staff.

7. The museum sector's Diversify programme, overseen by the Museums Association, with funding largely from the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, has shown that more people from ethnic minorities can be encouraged to study museum studies at postgraduate level with if they are offered specifically targeted funding.

Recent research by the Museums Association shows that the majority of minority-ethnic UK students taking museum-studies courses are supported with funding through the Diversify scheme. This suggests that without such targeted funding, fewer minority-ethnic students would be taking museum-studies courses. (Detailed data can be provided if that would be helpful).

8. Even with the support of Diversify funding, the number of minority-ethnic students taking museum-studies masters courses is still low. Museums Association research shows that in 2005/6 only around 20 of over 300 UK students on museum-studies courses are from minority-ethnic backgrounds.

9. In both the interests of fairness and of meeting employer needs we urge AHRC to takes more action in this area. We would like the AHRC to consider:

· Adding a new principle that refers to widening participation.

· Adding a strategic aim with related objectives that commits AHRC to actively drawing up plans to widen participation in postgraduate research and training in the arts and humanities.

Based on our experience of the Diversify scheme, we would be happy to advise AHRC on this area.

AHRC and museums

10. We welcome enormously AHRC's interest in museum and gallery research and wonder if it could be given a higher profile in the strategy. At present museum and gallery research is covered in 3.4, in the section on knowledge transfer, we wonder whether it might be possible to:

· Refer to museum and gallery research additionally under strategic aim 1.

11. Finally, the Museums Association is concerned about the decision of HEFCE to end its agreement with AHRC for funding university museums, galleries and collections (UMGCs) in England.

The Museums Association thinks that AHRC is extremely effective and strategic in its approach to allocating funding to UMGCs and hopes that the approach of the AHRC can be maintained in any future funding arrangements.

The importance of this for UMGCs is great, as we are sure the AHRC recognises. We would like the AHRC to consider whether it might in its strategic plan:

Refer specifically to the role AHRC will play in ensuring (or encouraging) effective and strategic funding allocations to university museums, galleries and collections

To see the consultation documents, click here

For further comment or information, please contact:

Helen Wilkinson
Policy Officer
Museums Association
24 Calvin Street
London
E1 6NW

helenw@museumsassociation.org
www.museumsassociation.org

020 7426 6950