08 April 2011

Petition "UK scientists oppose cuts in the Arts and Humanities"

As you might be aware, the UK government has announced cuts for funding for Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences last year. Lord Mandelson, the business & education secretary has ordered budget cuts of £600m by 2013 and as a consequence, had to deny allegations of a "utilitarian" agenda in which academic institutions were seen as a production line dedicated to delivering graduates to meet industry's needs (Guardian, ibid). Leading academics, university chancellors and MPs have prominently condemned these and many other cuts in higher education and public spending in the UK media. A week ago, 500 000 people demonstrated in London after the deadline for universities to submit their new tuition fees expired and it was revealed that the majority of universities will raise their tuition fees from £3000 to the full £9000 amidst fears of reduced funding, eventually confirmed by the recent release of 2011-12 funding figures by the Higher Education Funding Council  for England (HEFCE).

Therefore, if you are a scientist based in the UK and oppose the cuts in funding for Higher Education in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, please take the time to sign and circulate widely the following petition, put forward by a group of concerned scientists. If you are not a scientist or not based in Great Britain, please forward it to your scientific colleagues based in the UK.

Background (Preamble):
The government has announced huge cuts to the funding of the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences. Whole departments are to be closed. One persistent theme in the framing of this decision is the claim that these subjects are not strategically important and do not contribute economic value.

As researchers and teachers in the natural sciences, we know that the balance of teaching and research subjects at each university cannot be remade by a product-oriented central plan, and we strongly believe that our universities are indivisible.

Healthy natural science teaching and research are inseparable from healthy humanities and social sciences; witness the tremendous investment of world-leading technology universities such as Caltech and MIT in their schools of humanities and social sciences.

Computer scientists collaborate with linguists and psychologists on translation software; mathematicians collaborate with economists on financial models; social scientists collaborate with biologists to guide the application of genomics discoveries; and all depend on philosophers and historians to establish the foundations of their subjects. Students who are preparing for the challenges of the 21st century need to be exposed to this thriving interdisciplinarity.

Lord May, former president of the Royal Society, expressed this well in 2002: “Science does no more than setting the stage, providing and clarifying the choices. Our values and feelings about the society we wish to build, in this wiser world of tomorrow, then will write the play. But whence the values? What shapes them? What guides the subsequent choices? These are hugely difficult, yet utterly fundamental questions. Ultimately the answers ... will illustrate better than anything else just how indivisible is the continuum from the arts and humanities through to the sciences. Studies in the arts and humanities continue, in many different ways, to illuminate the mechanisms of social interaction and cohesion in human institutions.”

We, the undersigned scientists, who are concerned with the long-term viability of British research and teaching, urge the government to reconsider its hasty plans to cut funding for higher education in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences.

Sign the petition here:

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