Scientists may gloat, but an assault is under way against the arts

Why is there such a huge funding bias towards science when the chief growth in graduate jobs has been elsewhere?

By Simon Jenkins

Excerpt from: The Guardian Thursday March 25, 2010

Full article :

Which is more important, science or the humanities? The right answer is not: what do you mean by important? The right answer is a question: Who is doing the asking?

The budget reached a nadir in government micro-management of British universities. The chancellor, Alistair
Darling, announced “£270m more” for 20,000 university students for one year, but it must go on the “key”
subjects of science, technology, engineering and maths (so-called Stem). He did not mention the £900m less
for universities over three years in last year’s pre-budget report, or how this related to the 6,000 places cut last autumn, or the 10,000 increased last summer.

Some of the money comes from our old friend “efficiency savings”, but then Darling strangely allocated £20m “to achieve” those savings. He appears to be spending money to save money that he has already spent. This is the public finance of Dadaism. Besides, these numbers are trivial against the over-100,000 applicants for student places who could this year be turned away.

More serious is the bias in the budget and in recent cuts in research spending that declares science to be more important than anything else. This bias has become rampant since first adumbrated by Margaret Thatcher in the late-1980s, though it echoed Lord Snow’s “two cultures” divide in the 1950s and Harold Wilson’s claim that only “the white heat of technology” would arrest Britain’s industrial decline.

Convinced that the humanities and social sciences were socialist breeding grounds, Thatcher abolished the
autonomous University Grants Committee and made deep cuts in university finance in 1980-83. Universities
were then invited to bid for new money, but not for social sciences. Within five years, the education secretary, Lord Baker, brought universities under his heel. A 1986 white paper declared: “The major determinant for the planning of higher education must be the demand for highly qualified manpower.” It should be brought “closer to the world of business, in line with the economy’s needs”. The concept of the free-spirited scholar/academic was dead (except in privately resourced Oxford and Cambridge).

John Griffith, professor of administrative law at London University, rightly described what Baker did as
“historically comparable to the dissolution of the monasteries” . . .

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