Saturday, 12 January 2019

Research funding

or the lack thereof is in the news again with the universities saying they don't get enough funding.
I recently finished doing some university work. It wasn't something I intended to do but the opportunity presented itself and I thought, "Why not?"
I was co-supervising a doctoral student in another area and the university in question had said, "We can't afford to pay you but is there any way you could...."  You know the sort of thing I mean. I had not been planning on doing any more supervision. It is far more difficult to do supervision at a long distance - not impossible but still difficult. The problem was that the staff member who had been going to do it was ill, very ill...and the student had some research funding. The staff member had another close-to-completion student in limbo and was I interested in seeing they completed as well?
Although sympathetic I nearly said "No" outright but I had actually been looking at textile courses. What I had been looking for were their reading lists in the hope that I could learn something from those.
The university in question actually runs a serious post graduate degree in creative textiles. I thought about it for a few days and then sent a response which ran along the lines of, "If you let me take part in the course in creative textiles then I'll do the bulk of the supervision - and I'll see if I can help the other student complete as well."
There were some more emails backwards and forwards and it was agreed that if I didn't mind not actually getting the qualification then they would agree. I suspect they were thinking I wouldn't actually bother to do the work. I did the work. I have managed to learn a lot I needed to know.
But all this set me thinking again about research, about supervision, about funding - and more. University staff I know here tell me that, in order to get funding of any sort, research needs to be seen as "useful" - i.e. that it will bring in more research funding from places like pharmaceutical companies. There is a little money for doing what can only be described as "currently fashionable politically correct studies". Getting research funding in the arts is almost impossible. Any research in that area is done with minimal funding, if any at all. Research needs to have likely positive economic consequences so interest in literature,  history, philosophy, Latin or even linguistics is not nearly as likely to attract funding. 
The students I inherited with the research grants were the recipients of research grants funded by a charity the members of which are well aware of the economic consequences of not being literate.
So, I've done the work. One student completed some time ago and now has her PhD. The other student handed in his thesis a week ago and I expect it will pass. I can't put another MA after my name - but I don't want to or need to. I now know what I need to know.
The interesting thing though is that the department in question asked me,
      "We don't suppose you'd like to think about actually doing another doctorate? There isn't any funding but...."
Thank you but no, I am not interested. I don't need to do it. I want to follow my own interests. I am too old.
And it would cost too much. 
University research funding has to be about more than things which have positive economic consequences.


jeanfromcornwall said...

Completely off topic, and beside the point. In today's (Fri 11th) Times there wa a photo of Well Cathedral with all the chairs removed from the nave, so that the wonderful mediaeval space was visible, and in the foreground was a Verger, talking to one of the Cathedral cats. Now why did I think of you?

catdownunder said...

I wonder - :)

Jodiebodie said...

It is a disgrace that learning for the point of higher learning, critical thinking, debate and discovery no longer seems a top priority in our universities. It angers me that arts are not valued. The arts provide the context for the sciences. What use is a science degree or economics degree (a pseudo-science in my book) without the social and global contexts provided by an arts education?

I am concerned that a higher education institution would expect you to volunteer your time and energy to do a job that would otherwise be a proper paid position. I'm glad you were able to negotiate a reward for your work. Asking you to do that work for nothing undermines and devalues the other supervisors who are in paid positions.

The whole attitude of something for nothing (unpaid internships are another example imported from overseas business culture) irks me. It is disrespectful and exploitative. Whatever happened to fair social exchange or remuneration for service?

I'm glad you got something out of it and so did the students, thanks to your care and generosity.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations on adding another MA to the list Cat. (Yes, I KNOW you aren't going to formally be awarded it but you did do all the work. Still hoping we can persuade you to take on another student.) Bernie

Holly said...

and then there are people like me, back in school because it is interesting, occasionally challenging .... and .... I am actually getting paid. But at this point, like the average degree in various assorted arts - the people around me can't figure out why I am doing this - or what do I plan on doing with another degree...

Telling them the diploma will go in a drawer somewhere doesn't seem to make anyone else happy.

And yes - they should have awarded you the degree. At the very least - one of those HONORARY degrees some universities use like candy to reward certain people whom they can't pay...

Anonymous said...

I don't think Cat would want any sort of "candy" degree but I love that description. Chris

catdownunder said...

Definitely don't want a "candy" degree Holly. I knew what the terms and conditions were. It was more fun than my law degree!