Week 11 – Issues based reflection – research support for humanities

Home Forums Student forums Stacey Week 11 – Issues based reflection – research support for humanities

Viewing 5 reply threads
  • Author
    • #2341
      Stacey Larner

      Australian universities are under pressure to increase their research output and enhance their reputation for research excellence. The pressure exists because funding is tied to research metrics, elevating research above undergraduate teaching and learning. Australian libraries, therefore, are evolving to offer support for research, meaning other services, such as undergraduate student support, are being streamlined, through automation or shifting services online, to free up funding and resources for research support. This is a similar shift to the drastic (and confronting to some) restructure of the physical space to reduce the physical collection, expand the online collection, and meet the changing needs of students.

      This is a rational response. Library funding is tied to university funding, and libraries are focused on meeting the needs of its university. Libraries are trying to do more with less (or more with the same), so it makes sense to restructure services and spaces, as long as the needs of users are being met. However there are some potential dangers in tying the core missions of the library too closely to the whims of governmental policy and priorities.

      The Australian Research Council announced in July 2015 that its funding rules would align with the government’s Science and Research Priorities, after lengthy debate over “wasteful” humanities research. These research priorities encompass Food, Soil and Water, Transport, Cybersecurity, Energy, Resources, Advanced Manufacturing, Environmental Change, and Health. The implication for humanities researchers is that there will be less funding available, and that it will be harder to win.

      Australia has a reputation for a long history of rejecting “intellectualism” and academic thought. According to an entrenched anti-intellectual belief, academics live in ivory towers, not the real world, and should get a haircut and a real job (they’d be paid better if they did that). When one type of research is valued above another, when universities stand to gain nothing from their humanities academics, what then?

      Libraries can justify a shift toward greater research support for HDR students and academics, and implementing cost saving strategies where undergraduates students are concerned (students aren’t too concerned about automation or online services, in fact younger students, so-called “digital natives”, may prefer the convenience). However, would it be ethical to consider cutting support for humanities HDR students and academics on the basis that their research is considered less valuable by Australian society? While such a drastic move has not been posited by Australian university libraries, and indeed the humanities are currently doing quite well (although concerns have been raised about certain areas, such as the casualisation of the academic workforce, staff-student ratios and funding) as funding pressures increase, might there be a temptation to reduce assistance to humanities researchers on the basis that the university gains less prestige from these researchers than from researchers meeting the strategic priorities of the government?

      As a former (failed) humanities PhD student, I am concerned by the potential implications. My experience was that I was isolated, under-supported by Faculty, disrupted by the loss of my supervisor (who was also a valued mentor), and lacking the necessary skills to become an independent researcher. Humanities HDRs are often left to their own devices, especially in small, underfunded faculties. My experience is not unique. Libraries can provide essential support to humanities HDR students (if they are aware of them—outreach is vital). In rationalising services based on funding, university libraries also need to pay close attention to ethics and core missions, and ensure users continue to receive the support they need.

    • #2395
      Peldon P

      Hi Stacey great post as usual..I was sort of struggling to write this week’s post but then your post gave me some idea so thanks. As for the post, I agree with you, research support should be same to all the HDR students, Humanities should not be left behind or else those students would have similiar stories like yours. Still HDR students always get more support than the coursework students. For instance, QUT Library has an entire section for Research students, I just hope those librarians assigned to them have more knowledge and expertise than those at the library helpdesk. Cheers 🙂

    • #2409
      Deborah Fuller

      An interesting and thought provoking post. My husband teaches science in a small religious school where humanities (and arts) are neglected in favour of science and business. I have had many discussion with him, (having a background in a humanities/science degree myself) that I feel more balance is needed. He agrees but says the culture of the school and parents meant that offering these subjects was not viable, which I felt was a bit sad.  We need a balance population with interests and knowledge in a range of subjects and I think research and independent thoughts should be encouraged throughout this range. You’re not a failed PhD student, the fact you started it is an achievement in itself, and it sounds like the system failed you.

    • #2494
      Katherine Lee

      A really well researched post Stacey! It is such an interesting issue you raise. From my experience students are being encouraged to undertake science and technology degrees because that is where the money is. Humanities are underfunded because the research produced by HDR students and academics doesn’t bring money in to the university. I think support for the Humanities has already been cut. QUT no longer have a humanities department and the departments within the Arts at UQ are having to cut or streamline some subjects. It does raise the question, how can Australia claim to have a well-rounded society if students are not encouraged to study the humanities?

    • #2515
      Stacey Larner

      Thanks Katherine! I tend to use “humanities” as a catch-all that includes the CI subjects as well. In my PhD I was actually doing what anyone would term a ” liberal arts/humanities” topic, a crossover between film studies and cultural studies, although I came from a music background. I do understand though that at QUT the Creative Industries definitely has taken “arts” and encouraged a commercial sensibility which makes it a little hard to justify the humanities tag, BUT, that said, a lot of students go into CI degrees not really liking the commercial aspect of it (I tutored them for a couple of years and a lot of them complained about the “businessy” stuff).

      I definitely agree with you, I’m a big believer in arts in partnership/collaboration with science and vice versa.

    • #2854
      Steven Walker

      A throurough and very extenive reading, but do not fret I have read it This is awesome review of the discussion, Great post, thank you!

Viewing 5 reply threads
  • You must be logged in to reply to this topic.