|A Soap Opera: the source of the Leverhulme millions|
Gordon Marshall is a sociologist by training, and has had a long and illustrious career in senior management within higher education. He taught at Bath, Essex and the LSE, was Chief Executive of the ESRC and VC at Reading. After climbing to these dizzy heights, Marshall is enjoying life at the helm of what he described as a 'small peer review shop off Fleet Street'.
The Trust gives out less than half the value of awards of the ESRC (£80m, compared to some £200m), but processes four times as many applications (4,000 pa, compared to the ESRC's 800). Moreover, it does so with just 14 people, compared to the ESRC's 125. With such a small team, 'we can't generate much bureaucracy', said Marshall.
96% of their awards are responsive mode. The exception are the Programme Grants, which offer substantial funding (up to £1.75m) in areas identified by the Trustees. The disciplinary distribution of awards generally follows applications: they get more science applications, so tend to give out more science awards. The divide is roughly as follows:
- Sciences: 50%
- Humanities: 30%
- Social Sciences: 20%
The Trust does not 'manage demand', as many of the Research Councils have had to do. 'If your quality is acceptable we fund you,' said Marshall. Whilst the Trustees have the ultimate say on who gets funded, they rely for advice on reviews and on a small group of academic advisors. The Trustees, claimed Marshall, 'were the last group of people in the country who have respect for the academy'. They recognised the worth of good research, and wanted to fund it. In terms of what shape this should take, Leverhulme was very open. It covers all disciplines except:
- clinical medical research (which is already well covered by Wellcome);
- policy-driven research, which should be funded by the Government;
- 'advocacy' projects;
- those with immediate commercial applications, which should be funded by industry.
Marshall finished by highlighting some common failings of unsuccessful applications. These included:
- An overly detailed review of the literature. Whilst the Trustees need some context, you should concentrate on the specifics of what you are actually going to do. This leads on to the second failing:
- Under specified research design;
- Claims of scholarship. Leverhulme isn't interested in H-Index, REF scores, or any other indication of prestige. They look solely at the potential of the project and your ability to undertake the research;
- Supposition of a hidden agenda. There is no agenda. Leverhulme just wants to fund the best research, wherever it is found;
- Incremental work. They don't provide funding for 'empire building', or work that doesn't lead to a step change in understanding. Excite them.
- Claims of impact. They have no interest in this agenda.