Where the money is going

Lorcan 1 min read

Academic libraries are funded to support the research and learning activities of their home institutions. As research and learning behaviors change so must they. A major issue for academic libraries in coming years is the increasing discrepancy between the needs of their faculty in science, technology and medicine and their ability to address such needs. This discrepancy will become more visible as the proportion of university budgets consumed by STM grows. Many librarians have a disposition towards, and training in, the humanities and social sciences, disciplinary areas which consume a progressively smaller part of many universities’ budget and, inevitably, attention. Perhaps, underneath the institutional repository discussion is some recognition of this?
Was thinking about this while reading the following discussion of trends in UK higher education. Collini is a clear-eyed ‘humanist’.

During the same period, universities have been transformed to the point where they are now principally centres of scientific and technological research and, increasingly, of vocational and professional training. In the 1930s, half the students at British universities were in the arts faculties; more strikingly still, at Oxford and Cambridge the proportion studying in arts faculties was 80 and 70 per cent respectively. Now, those studying pure ‘humanities’ subjects (classification problems again) account only for some 18 per cent of undergraduates and 12 per cent of postgraduates in British universities. But the really significant change concerns expenditure, especially expenditure on research rather than teaching: the huge growth in the costs of ‘big science’ and the extraordinary expansion of the scope of the biological sciences mean that the science budget has soared into the billions, dwarfing the amounts spent on the humanities and social sciences. Inevitably, funding systems will be designed to fit the activities involving the most money. Public funding of higher education is hugely concentrated on supporting science, medicine and technology, and these departments account for an overwhelmingly large proportion of any individual university’s operating budget. It is hardly surprising that so many of the characteristics of the funding system under which universities operate, from the reliance on winning large grants from commercial and charitable sponsors to the categories of the Research Assessment Exercises, should reflect the economic clout of the sciences. [LRB | Stefan Collini : HiEdBiz]

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