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2 June 2006

Press release issued by the Economic and Social Research Council on behalf of partner organisations

New funding targets greater understanding of China, Japan, Eastern Europe and Arabic-speaking world

Today, the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), and the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) announce the launch of five new collaborative centres as part of their joint £25 million Language Based Area Studies initiative

The initiative aims to create a world class cadre of researchers who will enhance the UK's understanding of the Arabic-speaking world, China, Japan and Eastern Europe, including areas of the former Soviet Union. Understanding these areas is of cultural, political and economic importance to the UK. The development of the necessary language skills alongside the development of an in-depth understanding of these regions will be central to the work of the centres.

New networks of collaboration are also being established through the five centres with universities coming together to share expertise. Each of them will be directly investing in studentships and other academic positions at post-doctoral levels creating structured career opportunities and encouraging the next generation of highly skilled researchers into language based area studies.

The five new centres to be funded through the initiative are:

  • Led by Dr Frank Pieke, the British Interuniversity China Centre (BICC) sees the Universities of Oxford, Bristol and Manchester combine forces to develop the UK's premier teaching and research facility on China.
  • Based at the University of Glasgow, Richard Berry will lead a collaboration of St Andrew's University and the Universities of Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Paisley, Strathclyde, Newcastle and Nottingham to establish a research centre looking at Eastern Europe and Russia.
  • Professor Robert Hillenbrand of the University of Edinburgh will head up the centre studying the Arabic-speaking world in partnership with the Universities of Durham and Manchester.
  • The Universities of Leeds and Sheffield will work together, led by Professor Victor King, to create an international centre of excellence in research and training on Japan and China.
  • At UCL, Professor George Kolankiewicz will work with the Universities of Oxford and Birmingham to establish the Centre for East European and Former Soviet Union Language Based Area Studies (CEELBAS).

In a joint statement the Chief Executives of the funding bodies said,

"We are delighted that working with other funders we have been able to establish partnerships that will invigorate language skills across the diverse range of research that makes up area studies. These five new centres are a solid investment that will help to develop and enhance the research base within area studies, ensuring that it contributes fully to the economic development and quality of life for the people of the UK and beyond."


1.   This initiative is jointly funded by the HEFCE the ESRC, the AHRC and the SFC over a 5 year period. HEFCE is contributing almost half of the initiative's £25million budget with the rest of the funders making up the balance.

2   HEFCE is the major public funder of higher education in England. It distributes some £7 billion per annum for teaching, research and knowledge transfer. Its total expenditure on research in 2005/06 is £1.25 billion.

3.   The ESRC is the UK's largest funding agency for research and postgraduate training relating to social and economic issues. It provides independent, high quality, relevant research to business, the public sector and Government. The ESRC total expenditure in 2005/6 is £135million. At any time the ESRC supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and research policy institutes.

4.   Each year the AHRC provides approximately £80 million to support research and postgraduate study in the arts and humanities, from archaeology and English literature to design and dance. In any one year, the AHRC makes approximately 700 research awards and around 1,500 postgraduate awards. Awards are made after a rigorous peer review process, to ensure that only applications of the highest quality are funded. Arts and humanities researchers constitute nearly a quarter of all research-active staff in the higher education sector. The quality and range of research supported not only provides social and cultural benefits but also contributes to the economic success of the UK.

5.   SFC is a non-departmental public body responsible to - but operating at arm's length from - the Scottish Executive. It distributes more than £1.5 billion of public funds annually on behalf of the Scottish Executive. The Council provides financial support for learning and teaching, and research and associated activities in Scotland's 20 higher education institutions (HEIs). As well as providing financial support for learning and teaching in Scotland's 43 further education (FE) colleges, the Council also provides resources to enable colleges to offer bursaries to students on non-advanced courses.