December 08, 2010

Catastrophic Cuts to the University of Wales Press.

There has some awful news recently about the University of Wales Press, which is facing some detrimental cuts. Basically the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW) has announced that no longer will it fund publication in the Welsh language or about Welsh culture. This policy seems at best, a mistake, and at worst, racist.

Here is what the scholar Kirsti Bohata says about it:

Without a viable source of funding for academic publishing in Wales, ‘Welsh Studies’ – that is scholarship about Wales – and scholarship in the Welsh language will be in an untenable position. It will be unable to perform in the Research Evaluation Framework (REF) and unable to take its place on an international platform. In order to understand its culture, interrogate its past and build a meaningful future, Wales needs its researchers and teachers. Without a means to circulate research, scholarship and teaching will fade and die.

Welsh scholars, however, have set up a facebook group with information to protest against the cuts. Here is what it advises:

The key issues involved in this issue are outlined below and we hope that as many people as possible will call for a reversal of HEFCW’s decision.
We suggest that you write to the following (contact details are given at the end of this document).
• Mr Roger Thomas, Chair of HEFCW Council
• Professor Philip Gummett, Chief Executive of HEFCW
• Leighton Andrews, Minister for Children, Education and Lifelong Learning in the Welsh Assembly Government
• Your constituency AM
• Your list AM
• Your MP
• A list of Council Members of HEFCW is given in a separate doc, do write to any you know personally.

We suggest that your letters to HEFCW ask that the full Council be shown your correspondence.

The group also lists issues of importance that you might find useful in writing your letter.

1. The grant money that used to go straight to the press will now be in the hands of university bureaucrats

The HEFCW Publications Grant has funded about 15 titles a year since 1999. It served (in HEFCW’s own words) “to boost research in Wales; to boost the standing of higher education and of higher education institutions in Wales; to fulfil the Council’s objectives in relation to Welsh language and culture, particularly in relation to scholarship in these areas” (from ‘Criteria for the use of the HEFCW Grant’). From now on, however, HEFCW proposes that these funds will be distributed to individual universities, which can then allocate funding for such publications “if they consider that publication of the kind hitherto supported by the HEFCW Publication Fund is an academic priority for them” (from HEFCW letter to UWP).

2. Why the new funding structure won’t work

In the short term, with the REF just around the corner, individual universities might allocate some funds towards Welsh publications. However, there seems little chance that this will be sustained. In the longer term, this money (which is not ringfenced) is likely to be used for other purposes. Welsh scholarship will be seriously damaged as a consequence.
bq. The new funding system replaces the block grant paid directly to UWP with a piecemeal system. This will leave UWP with considerably reduced editorial control, as it will increasingly have to make decisions based on funding attached to titles rather than on their intrinsic quality. This will undermine the planning and sustainability of key series.

Funds may not be allocated to the universities which are producing the best Welsh scholarship in any one year. Moreover, significant work in the field by scholars not based at Welsh universities will not be funded.

This is not to mention the fact that – shock horror – universities outside of Wales might have scholars who are writing about Welsh literature or even working in the Welsh language.

3. Why the withdrawal of direct grants to UWP is a disaster for Welsh scholarship

Welsh scholarship – both work in the Welsh language and work about Wales – will have no specialist University Press. As a result, very little scholarly research on Welsh subjects will be published.

Younger scholars, those based outside Wales and others not directly employed by universities wishing to invest in REF publications will not be able to publish crucial research.

A lack of research publications will be seen as a sign of academic weakness and will undermine scholarship in a diverse range of Welsh studies.

4. Why can’t UWP publish academic titles without a grant?

It is not economically viable. HEFCW recognises this under the new system when it suggests that individual Universities can provide publishing subsidies from the redistributed funds.

5. Why can’t academics publish elsewhere?

Publishers outside Wales tend to lack the interest or necessary expertise in Wales-related fields. As such, they are unlikely to accept Welsh-language material or books primarily exploring the history and culture of Wales.

These were the conditions which prompted the creation of the HEFCW grant in 1999 and the situation has not improved.

Contact Details

Mr Roger Thomas, Chair of HEFCW Council
Professor Philip Gummett, Chief Executive of HEFCW
Higher Education Funding Council for Wales
Linden Court, Ilex Close
Cardiff, CF14 5DZ

Leighton Andrews AM,
National Assembly for Wales
CF99 1NA

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