A new report recommends that universities respect the expertise of partners in creative and cultural sectors, if they want collaborative arts and humanities research to have greater value. 

Universities must work more flexibly for arts and humanities research to have greater value, report finds

A new report recommends that universities respect the expertise of partners in creative and cultural sectors, if they want collaborative arts and humanities research to have greater value.   

GW4 Bridging the Gap, supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), was a year-long research project to explore collaborative research in the arts and humanities in South West England and South East Wales.

The project focused on the following areas: creative economy, heritage, modern languages and environmental humanities, and senior representatives from organisations including the National Trust, the Watershed and National Museums Wales shared their experiences of working with academia.

The final report includes a series of recommendations for universities and funders of collaborative arts and humanities research. Universities are encouraged to adapt to different working processes when partnering with creative and cultural organisations, dependant on their size and aims. They are also urged to address the vacuum of opportunity that exists between PhD or early career research and more stable professorial academic contracts.

Funders are invited to put “third party producers” in place on projects to better support partnerships between universities and non-academic organisations, and to build collaborative career pathways for early career researchers.    

Sector-specific recommendations include:

  • Creative economy: introduce new funding models for collaborative research that combine short-term grants with long-term, open-ended support.
  • Heritage: ensure collaboration moves beyond relationships between individuals by involving a wider network of colleagues in partnership projects.
  • Environmental humanities: university and non-academic partners should pursue curiosity-led, rather than just challenge-led, research to address issues together.
  • Modern Languages: launch a series of regional networking forums, bringing together university researchers with potential partners in different sectors, including local government and NGOs. 

Dr Nicola Thomas, from the University of Exeter said:  Bridging the Gaps mobilised the Heritage sector and GW4 Universities to think about the challenges of working together, and collectively exploring ideas and solutions. The Heritage sector is incredibly strong in the South West and is a powerful partner for GW4 in developing new research projects, opportunities for students,  and routes to engagement. Bridging the Gaps enabled us to work towards more effective partnerships.

Professor Nick Talbot, Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research and Impact University of Exeter and Chair of the GW4 Board says: “Working with partners is integral to GW4’s mission and our collaborative ethos. This exciting report outlines many practical suggestions, based on our innovative partnering work to date, to help arts and humanities researchers and organisations work together more effectively to develop research that delivers real value. We look forward to building on its recommendations as we aim to grow the Great West’s creative and cultural economy.”

Professor Hugh Brady, Chair of GW4 Council and Vice-Chancellor and President, University of Bristol said: “The Great West region is home to innovative arts and humanities research and world-renowned cultural heritage. Our creative economy is the second largest in the UK behind London. As the report demonstrates, bringing these elements together requires mutual respect between universities and non-academic partners and an openness to pursue curiosity-led research. I am hopeful that Bridging the Gap will act as a best practice template for collaborative working across the UK and will lead to improved partnerships between researchers and creative and cultural organisations here in the Great West.”

The Bridging the Gap report will be the focus of a joint GW4 and The Conversation UK debate ‘Do the arts and humanities matter?’ on Wednesday 22 November, 6 - 8pm, at We the Curious, Bristol. 

Date: 22 November 2017

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