research funding and libraries

Part of the Comprehensive Spending Review earlier in the autumn was that funding for Science research would be frozen. This was as a result of lots of lobbying and protesting from the scientific community in the UK about how vital they are and how they input into the economy etc etc. Now, as I have a science background myself I am fully behind this and think that scientific understanding is something that should be valued and encouraged across the board. However, this does raise the question fo funding research into other non-STEM (science, technology & medicine) subjects and whether the “saving” of funding for science means that they will be cut harder.

I have also heard rumblings that there will be limitations on which Universities are eligible to apply for research funding from the UK Research Councils. If this were to happen then there would be a real issue within the UKHE sector, where there may be academics doing research at institutions where they are now no longer able to apply for funding. For some universities this wouldn’t be a problem, but for MPOW it would be – it is a fairly modern University that does some top-notch research in some subject areas, although it is not generally considered as a research University. If the limit was based on standing within the community as a whole then I doubt we would be eligible, but if it were done on the basis of the latest RAE results then we would be, although only in certain subjects.

I can see that the traditional universities would be loath to have to compete for the ability to apply for funding, but to castigate people doing world-leading research because they happen to be at the wrong institution seems completely unfair. And yet, having certain parts of different Universities being able to apply for funding would be so confusing and take so much time to administer that it seems unpractical.

The other side of this issue (and what I am more interested in) is the implications this would have on libraries, especially their funding for resources. If MPOW were to be deemed a teaching only university, as it was no longer able to apply for funding from the UK Research Councils, then there would be a real risk that the budget we have for our resources would drastically decrease. Especially in areas where our collection is seen as being for research, rather than to support teaching and learning.

If this were to be replicated across all UKHEIs that were now no longer funded to do research then this could have a severe impact on publishers when many of their customers are forced to cancel subscriptions wholesale. And what would be the economic impact of that? Some publishers might not be able to survive, and it is likely that this would further consolidate the large publishers strangle-hold on academic publishing. I think this would be a really bad thing, as they are then constraining the publishing models for journals. The will also have even more of a monopoly and so there will be even less control on what they can charge for access to their content. Open access is a fantastic idea, but it hasn’t yet become mainstream or revolutionised the way publishing works.

The other losers in this scenario will be the students, as they will have less access to resources to support their learning. We already have students who complain that they can’t access obscure references as we don’t have subscriptions that cover articles published in French in the 70s about a volcano in fiji (as one example). If our budget is substantially smaller than the range of content they will be able to access through us will be considerably smaller. This will mean that they are less able to “study outside the box” and so will it diminish the agenda we have to promote information literacy across the curriculum?

How much will questions like this effect which institution a student studies with? My Uncle chose where to do his degree based on which had the best library – I think he looked at number of books in his subject area. What would be the similar metric now? I’m not sure the number of physical items held is of much interest now (yet it is still used) and yet the number of electronic items hasn’t yet become standard. And how would that be measured anyway, considering the range of freely accessible stuff anyway?

Hmm, this post seems to have somewhat unexpectedly ended up as a rather long ramble about funding and resources 🙂

One comment

  1. If budgets for resources are cut widely there’s a real risk that we get into a spiral where publishers see subscriptions being cancelled so raise their prices to compensate, leading to more cancellations. To an extent some of the multi-year negotiated deals may mean that it takes a time to feed through.

    It’s an interesting thought about the amount that the quality of the collection plays in students deciding where to study. As collections move towards electronic content it’s increasingly hard to see what collections universities subscribe to – while OPACs are open for searchers from outside the institution, e-resource searching might not be.

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