Academics resign over ‘big society’

By Phil Scullion

Over 40 leading academics have resigned from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) peer review college over the inclusion of the 'big society' in its delivery plan.

The academics consider the slogan to be party political and to have no place in the council's delivery plan which they say has never before featured party campaign slogans.

Five days ago academics made the initial threat to resign unless the phrase was removed entirely.

They went ahead with their resignations yesterday after not hearing from the AHRC.

Thom Brooks, an academic at Newcastle University who has led the campaign, told "The next step is to call on others to join us in resigning from the Peer Review College. There's already a couple of people who have come forward within the last few hours."

Nearly 4,000 academics have already signed a petition on the subject and several letters and opinion essays have featured in the national news media over the past week.

"There is unprecedented widespread support for a very small but very important change in a delivery plan about an item that they say is itself insignificant. They say there's nothing to worry about the big society in their delivery plan," Dr Brooks added.

"If it's of no big importance and there's no political cause to have it in then there should be no reason why in the face of such widespread opposition they can't make a change."

The 40 academics who have resigned are from a range of different universities all over the country, including seven from Oxford.

Last week shadow universities minister Gareth Thomas stepped in to up the pressure on higher education minister David Willetts, writing to him with a request that he release documentation between his office and the AHRC.

He also said that he did not think it was appropriate for the 'big society' to be given funding when universities are already facing huge cuts.