Bill Scott's blog

Thoughts on learning, sustainability and the link between them

Monthly Archives: September 2009

Research Grants Nosedive – time for a creative response

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Thus, Times Higher Education [ THE ] reported the increasingly small chance that researchers now have of squeezing cash out of six research councils.  Across the piece, applicants have a 23% chance of funding, and the figure is less than 20% for two of the councils (AHRC & ESRC).   Two many desperate people chasing too little money, it seems, and probably too little internal scrutiny to make sure than only high quality applications leave the institution.  Those of us at the sharp end of this didn't need the THE to tell us about it, of course, but the full figures are illuminating.

Time for some creative thinking, perhaps, so here's an idea for the research councils.  Charge universities for making bids.  Those who are successful get it back; those who aren't, don't.  Instead it gets added to the sums available for research.  But how much should it be?  It might differ, of course, from council to council, it might be a % of the grant total (a sort of  grant value tax at 10%), or a fixed sum so as not to disincentivise large bids (£10,000 a go perhaps).  As for outcomes, well, uncertain as ever, of course, and probably perverse, but universities might well change their bidding habits.  NB, this is not to be seen as an alternative to increasing the amount of funding for research.


Taxpayers funding Brazilian dance troupe in London borough – Shock

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Those of us reading the Daily Mail regularly will already have enjoyed this headline on 12th September.  Not bad as the Mail goes, I suppose, but not a patch on the Sun's recent "Get De Beers in" as England's footballers strutted into the World Cup finals.

The Mail noted: "More than £240,000 of aid money that was meant to help the Third World has been spent on an Afro-Brazilian dance troupe in Hackney.  The project was set up to teach children Capoeira, a form of dancing involving head butts and kicks and devised by African slaves."

This is a reference to DfID's development awareness fund (ie, its education budget).  The Mail claims that this is among 31 questionable donations totalling £6.3 million this year.  After listing more such wasteful generosity, The Mail quoted a DfID spokesman (sic) who  said: 'Development awareness fund grants are awarded to not-for-profit groups which educate the public about global poverty and how to reduce it.  This project will help raise awareness of problems faced by poor people in developing countries and also directly benefit children in a disadvantaged area of London."  Quite so.

The Mirror has also covered the story, but in less detail.  Curiously, neither of the papers' websites obviously acknowledge the source of the exposé.  This is the report, Fake_Aid How foreign aid is being used to support the self-serving political activities of  NGOs, produced by the International Policy Network.

More open-minded readers who managed to get beyond the opening paragraphs might have been rather less shocked at the list of  projects that qualify as wasteful.  These included:

  • £60,000 to teach ethnic minority people in North Edinburgh about global poverty
  • £208,000 on teaching ethnic minorities in Wales about the Government's (sic) Millennium Development Goals.
  • £200,000 to make Asian teenagers aware of how the fashion industry hurts developing countries
  • £121,000 to teach schoolchildren about 'blood diamonds'
  • £259,000 to embed global issues into the HE engineering curriculum.

Pretty standard ESD fayre you might think, although there are a lot of zeros in these budgets (I comment as a cash-strapped researcher).  I sensed that the Mail couldn't decide whether it was the amount being spent, or what it is spent on, that was the bigger problem.

Of course, all open-minded educationalists (that's all of us, of course) will want to read the full report for themselves, and not rely on the press or those NGOs (and GONGOs) in receipt of funding for opinions.  It is something I'm likely to return to.

Meanwhile, I'm wondering what the mechanism is that DfID uses to ensure that what it spends on young people's education is fully congruent with the DCSF's sustainable schools initiative, and how DfID ensures that all recipients of funding fully conform to its rigorous equal opps policy.  Answers on a postcard ...

Earth First!

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Holidays almost over, and the urge to sit in front of a computer reasserts itself in my priorities, elbowing the taking of exercise out of the way.  I did manage some fresh air and walking during the break, however, and on one of these expeditions, came across Earth First!'s summer gathering at Seathwaite farm in Borrowdale.

Initially, I came across their high-handed usurping of scarce car parking space around the farm, and only afterwards found the training / education programme which, from what I saw of it, seemed lacking in pedagogical flair.

IMG_2041_2 The workshops, however, are informed by a striking example of Lawton's selection from culture.

Alas, despite its urging for all to "come by public transport if at all possible", like many another NGO that parades its virtues in this way, Earth First! then relied on those who dared to come by car and motorhome to use that transport during the gathering to ferry folk around to venues away from the farm.  Hypocrisy is not going out of fashion too quickly it seems.

However, maybe the University needs its own Earth First! group.  After all, it only takes two or three, as the Earth First! website explains.  It might have one already, of course, with all that emphasis on fairtrade, the disruption of car-parking, ... .  It's not for me, though.  I've given up vegan cake for life.