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December 08, 2010

Letter to Leighton Andrews about HEFCW Withdrawal of Funding for books on Welsh culture and in Cymra

Follow-up to Catastrophic Cuts to the University of Wales Press. from The Midnight Heart

Dear Leighton Andrews,

I am writing to you to express my concern at the HEFCW withdrawal of funding for University of Wales Press (UWP). The proposed changes which deny funding to books in the Welsh language and discussion of Welsh culture are, at best, misguided. I hope that you will read my reasons for thinking so and consider them carefully.

It is naïve to think that these kinds of projects can survive in the narrow world of academic publishing without support. The truth is that, if the funding is withdrawn, the books that would have been published by UWP will appear instead with lesser publishing houses, and fewer quality publications will mean less funding for Welsh academics. This is not to do with the projects’ merits, but, if we are honest, in the publishing houses beyond Wales, there is still a dubious suspicion that writing about Wales is too myopic, provincial or narrow to merit publication.

I hope that I do not have to convince you or HEFCW of why such writing is important and significant. Numerous Welsh critics and cultural commentators have described how the act of foregrounding and championing Welsh culture is a crucial task. I would emphasize too that though the readership of these books is limited, UWP is recognized internationally. I am currently living in the United States and imagine my pleasure when I found on the shelves of my local university library, Pennsylvania State, so many of the publications on Welsh writing in English produced by UWP: books like Katie Gramich’s Twentieth Century Women’s Writing in Wales, Diane Green’s Emyr Humphries, Harri Garod Roberts’ Embodying Identity and Matthew Jarvis’ Welsh Environments in Contemporary Poetry. These books and more are all here in the Penn State Library being read by American students and scholars, ordered by librarians who know that UWP though is funded, it produces quality.

I am a scholar of literature, as well as a poet, and, naturally, I write about Welsh literature. Although I studied at an English university for my BA, MA and PhD (Warwick University), I am from Wales originally and I always had a strong interest in writing about Welsh literature and culture. When I came to decide what topic to choose for my PhD thesis, groundbreaking works on Welsh writing in English published by University of Wales Press inspired me to write about poetry by women in Wales. Books like Stephen Knight’s One Hundred Years of Fiction and Kirsti Bohata’s Postcolonialism Revisited suggested to me as a young scholar that there was at least one publisher that appreciated accounts of Welsh writing. Had these books not existed, had this space for publication not been available, I am not sure that I would have spent three years and a PhD on a topic that would never be published. Considering today’s tough job market and the requirement for publishing work, it would not be a wise decision to write a PhD on Welsh culture at an English university—- that is if the changes that you propose go through.

This brings me to another point. Your plan is to pass on the funds that would have gone to the University of Wales Press to the universities in Wales to distribute where they see fit. This plan, however, makes some huge assumptions about who is producing academic commentaries on Welsh writing in English. I was a PhD student at Warwick University, where I had a funding package, and I now am affiliated to the University of Northampton. Someone like me will be excluded from publishing, because the funds available will be a closed shop with access only for those who have a job in Wales. Again, I would point out, that in the current job climate, it is unrealistic to imagine that every scholar working on Welsh culture will be able to find a job in Wales. I would add too that these funding arrangements are effectively excluding students and scholars who attend universities or find jobs outside Wales. This is the exact opposite of how things should be, because such students and scholars are taking the study of Welsh culture beyond the borders of Wales and emphasizing that Welsh culture is an object worthy of study in any university.

This will be the state of academics working on Welsh writing in English, but the cutting of funding for books in Cymraeg, the Welsh language, is just as bad, and it seems to break the very terms of HEFCW’s own Welsh language scheme. This scheme describes how HEFCW will “assess the linguistic consequences of any new or revised policies and initiatives when formulating them” and it explains that HEFCW will “ensure that new or revised policies and initiatives will promote and facilitate the use of Welsh wherever possible”.

I cannot tell you how short-sighted these cuts really are. As a possible future author of books that would normally be funded through this grant, it is true that my concern is personal. My objections, however, go beyond personal concerns. What you are effectively doing is putting books on Welsh writing in English in a ghetto, where the arbiters of quality research are university officials rather than experts in the field. Those students at an English university and those scholars who find jobs in scant supply in Wales will be excluded from producing quality monographs on Welsh writing in English. You are crushing the hopes of young scholars, and seriously damaging the study of Welsh literature as a serious topic equivalent to English literature. You have to ask the question, why would anyone be so foolhardy as to work in a research area where their enquiries would never be published?

I know that HEFCW only have the best interests of Welsh academia at heart and that this idea was probably supposed to improve that environment. I would, however, ask that you seriously consider the concerns of myself and other academics. There are serious implications to these cuts which can only be detrimental to Welsh scholarship. Please value the contributions that Welsh academics make to this area. The books may not make a huge amount of profit, they may not have as high a profile as some research, but they are fundamental to imagining a Welsh literature to challenge any on a world stage, to imagining a Welsh culture that is rich, multiple and vivid.

Please consider my views on this matter. I would be grateful if you would do me the courtesy of sharing this letter with the full HEFCW Council.

Sincerely,

Dr. Zoë Brigley Thompson

University of Northampton


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