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Questions and answers about AHRC's Delivery Plan

What’s in the AHRC Delivery Plan?

The AHRC’s Delivery Plan sets out our vision, mission and objectives for the next five years. It provides an overview of where we will be working to achieve these objectives, highlighting the key themes and principles (or enablers) around which we will organise our activities. It identifies our long-term ambitions in each area, lists short-term actions, and summarises how we will measure our success over the coming years when we report on our investments to UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).

Does the Delivery Plan supersede other AHRC strategy documents?

Yes. It supersedes our previous strategy document and the 2016-20 Delivery Plan, which was due to run until the end of March 2020. This is because the Higher Education and Research Act 2017, which created UKRI, also called for the creation of a new Delivery Plan following the publication of the UKRI Strategic Prospectus in June 2018.

Our new plan doesn’t mean that previous priority areas such as heritage, design, languages and the creative industries are no longer important. These areas have helped to shape the research themes in the Delivery Plan, and will have a continuing role to play in them.

The new Delivery Plan has many new areas, however. For example for the first time, equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) has been given explicit priority within the Delivery Plan. This reflects both our commitment to the principles of EDI in our own processes, and the unique capacity of the research that we fund to inform and inspire policies that aim to improve EDI within UK society and internationally. This is an area that we’re really excited about growing and developing over the coming years.

Who is the Delivery Plan for?

The document will be of interest to a variety of different stakeholders, ranging from researchers and research managers, who are interested in applying for AHRC funding, to government and UKRI, who need to understand why it is important to invest in arts and humanities research, to policy makers, businesses and other organisations who are interested in working with arts and humanities researchers. It is intended to be useful and accessible to all of those different audiences.

How does AHRC’s Delivery Plan relate to those of other UKRI councils?

Each organisation within UKRI (the seven Councils, Innovate UK and Research England) has its own Delivery Plan, and these form part of an overarching Delivery Plan for the whole of UKRI. All of the Delivery Plans were developed alongside one another with other Councils, with UKRI, and with UKRI’s sponsoring government department, the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

This collaborative approach to the development of the Delivery Plans has enabled us to identify synergies with other Councils, maximise opportunities for collaboration across Councils, and, where appropriate, take a common approach to shared priorities.

AHRC makes reference to a number of collaborations with other Councils in our Plan, and we are referenced in the Plans of several other Councils.

Will research that is relevant to the new priority themes and enablers receive higher levels of funding?

At present, none of the new priority themes and enablers are associated with additional or ring-fenced funding from AHRC’s discretionary budget, though this may change. Some of them, however, already draw on additional resources through hypothecated funds. Though no specific announcements have yet been made, we expect this type of funding to continue.

What is hypothecated funding?

‘Hypothecated’ in this context means ‘earmarked for a particular purpose’. The Higher Education and Research Act 2017 injected approximately £2 billion into UK Research and Innovation, much of it into various hypothecated funds.

The funds include:

  • The Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, for universities and industry to address today’s biggest industrial and social challenges, as part of the government’s Industrial Strategy

  • The Strategic Priorities Fund, which builds on the vision of a ‘common fund’ set out in the Nurse Review, to support high quality research and development priorities which previously may have struggled to find a home

  • The Fund for International Collaboration, which supports collaborative, strategic research and innovation programmes with selected partner countries

Hypothecated funds are an important new feature of the higher education funding landscape under UKRI. They are also an exciting opportunity for the AHRC to broaden the scope of the research we fund - for example innovation-focused work in the creative industries or interdisciplinary and cross-council work addressing contemporary challenges, without compromising our ability to fund our more long-established subject areas.

My research doesn’t seem to relate to the AHRC’s new priority themes. Can I still apply for AHRC funding?

Yes. You can apply for funding through any of our open call schemes (Standard/Early Career Research Grants, Standard/Early Career Leadership Fellows, and Research Networking), and your application will be assessed on the merits of your proposal.

You don’t need to refer to our new priority themes in our open call schemes, and doing so won’t benefit your application.

If we announce new funding schemes or calls that do relate to the priority themes, we’ll make that clear in the announcement.

Will the AHRC continue to provide open-call funding?

Yes. Our commitment to open-call funding is reflected in the ‘Discovery Research’ theme in the Delivery Plan, and echoed in the Delivery Plans of all the other Research Councils.

One of our aspirations for the next five years is to increase the flow of funding to our open call schemes, so that a higher proportion of the fundable applications we receive can actually be funded.

Will the AHRC continue to support research in single disciplines, and research that is not interdisciplinary?

Yes. This will be supported through our ongoing commitment to open-call funding, and through thematic and hypothecated funding calls where unidisciplinary research is relevant.

How does AHRC define impact in the Delivery Plan? Will impact be a condition of funding in the future?

The Delivery Plan does not define impact. In our open call funding schemes, the Councils’ standard definition of impact will continue to apply. If we announce new funding schemes or calls which require a specific type of impact (economic or social, for example), we will make this clear in the call documents.

What does ‘research unlocking cultural assets’ mean?

A ‘cultural asset’ can encompass many things, ranging from historic costumes to landscapes or a population who speak a particular language or dialect.

We’re interested in how research can guide how we manage that asset – from its discovery and preservation through to its display and dissemination – for the benefit of the people and economy of the UK.

In the case of a historic costume, for example, research is needed to identify and preserve it; the costume itself can then become the focus of research - exploring social and political contexts, for example, or inspiring new textiles and manufacturing technologies. By communicating that research to others, we then unlock the cultural value of the costume for wider audiences, and may also release economic value – for example, if audiences pay to see it, or individuals pay UK researchers to preserve similar things.

What’s the difference between the themes ‘interdisciplinarity for contemporary challenges’ and ‘Arts and Science, Arts in Science’?

The themes in our Delivery Plan are not mutually exclusive and there are areas of overlap between them. One area of overlap is between the ‘Interdisciplinarity for Contemporary Challenges’ theme and ‘Arts and Science, Arts in Science’. The latter emphasises the value of one dimension of interdisciplinary collaboration, of that between arts and humanities research and research in science and medicine. The former covers a broader range of interdisciplinary activities which might encompass collaborations between humanities and science but are not limited to them.