Call for the AHRC to reverse cuts to PhD scholarships
Please note that the letter is now closed to signatures so that we can collate, publish, and send to the AHRC (Oct 17 2023). 

[Anyone is welcome to sign this letter irrespective of their role, discipline, or funding status. We hope to find a site to publish the letter soon.]

We call on the Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) to reverse its decision to cut the number of PhD studentships it intends to fund over the next six years. As per an AHRC announcement on September 22, 2023 (see, the organisation has detailed a reduction from 425 scholarships to 300 by 2029 to 2030. Furthermore, we call on the AHRC either to conduct an impact assessment that investigates how the cuts will impact students from lower-income backgrounds, or to release evidence if such an assessment has already taken place.*

For some of us signing this letter, study at PhD level was possible only with AHRC support. For working class students with no access to family wealth the scholarship scheme represented the only means by which some people could continue their education. Many of us have since received AHRC and other fellowships and awards, and have become researchers, teachers, and professional services staff. Our careers benefitted from the opportunities afforded us by AHRC PhD funding.

Consequently, we are concerned by the AHRC’s decision to increase competition between students while decreasing their chances of undertaking a PhD. It will likely lead to greater uncertainty and stress for prospective applicants. First-generation and marginalised scholars who are already disadvantaged by the PhD application process may be put off from making submissions altogether. And the UK’s Arts & Humanities environment will suffer, too, as fewer students from lower-income backgrounds will gain PhDs.

We believe that the AHRC’s decision will contribute to narrowing postgraduate demographics and will undermine efforts to encourage greater diversity of perspective and experience in our universities.

Furthermore, we are concerned by the AHRC’s announcement that doctoral funding schemes will ‘enable a focus on skills that is responsive to high growth sectors, and the demands of the workforce of the future.’ The wording suggests that students with projects related to industry demands will be prioritised over those who do not, which will be detrimental to the intellectual scope and creativity of our disciplines in years to come.

Despite ongoing hostility toward Arts & Humanities facilitated by successive governments, the press, and some university senior management teams, these areas of study can and should be funded for their cultural, emotional, and psychological benefits. Thus, we seek assurances that the AHRC will champion Arts & Humanities projects of all kinds and allocate funding to PhD projects irrespective of whether they serve industry challenges. 

*It is not clear from the report or appendices (such as one concerned with student profiles) that the class status/household income of prospective PhD students or graduates have been considered in the decision making process. 

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