Etiuda scholarship results – are humanities mistreated?

It is a common knowledge in Poland that humanities (some folks add: and social sciences) are severely underfunded. Many claim that there is a funding bias against the humanities (again: and social sciences?) in awarding grants.

Only on Monday Narodowe Centrum Nauki (NCN, National Center of Science) has published the results of ETIUDA contest for doctoral scholarships. The aim of the program is to support final stage doctoral candidates in preparing good PhD thesis, and allow them to spend 3-6 months in a research center abroad, to enhance the quality of their work. I this been only third edition of bi-annual contest, but it sprang some discussion in Polish social media.

Last half a year have witnessed a more vocal protests of the humanities scholars in Warsaw as well as in other, especially smaller academic cities. One of the most visible organizations wasKomitet Kryzysowy Humanistyki Polskiej (KKHP Crisis Committee of Polish Humanities). It took stage with first presenting their postulates to the Ministry of Science and Higher Education, then declaring that the Ministry turns a deaf ear to them, and organized ‘Black march of Polish science’ aka ‘silent burial of Polish science’. You can spot some pictures of the event here and here.

KKHP has issued Facebook congrats to successful candidates but at the same time used the opportunity to criticize NCN for awarding 1/3 scholarships less while upholding the success level. Those proficient with Polish (or Google translator) may read the whole post here; but what they actually had in mind was that applicants from humanities have received 1/3 less scholarships than in previous editions.

As I think we need the data to make such strong statements, I have visited NCN website and analyzed the story of three editions of ETIUDA.

Results of the first edition have been published in June 2014, second – December 2014 and the last one just recently (June 2015). The three panels consist of:

  • Humanities and Social Sciences (HS),
  • Life sciences (NZ), and
  • Sciences and technology (ST).

Doctoral students that will complete their dissertation within 1,5 year after receiving the scholarship, so generally third-years and above, were eligible in all editions. I use the data on stage 1 applicants (that is those whose applications were judged formally admissible) and the final number of successful applicants. All the data is sourced from NCN.

Here are my findings:

The number of applicants to all three panels has fallen down only 7%, from 100 to 93. Nevertheless, in the humanities and social sciences there is a 30% drop (34 to 24 success, even though there were just 3% less eligible applicants. But the single biggest difference was the number of applicants in life sciences, which has fallen down over 32% in just 12 months between the first and third edition.

The crisis guys do not like the grant system at all. But while it is perfectly OK for them to think so, their claims that it is only the humanities that are in worse condition do not hold true.

Nevertheless, they are right that in the humanities and social sciences there was a drop of a success rate, from 26% in first and 30% in the second edition to just 21% in the third one.

As is clearly visible on the chart, when it is getting relatively easier to be awarded a doctoral scholarship in life sciences or sciences and technology fields, humanities and social sciences graduates had much lower success rate (30% than in second edition and 20% when compared to first edition, to be exact).

A quick look at the average success rate in all thee editions reveal that it is 26% in humanities and social sciences, 35% in life sciences ad 33% in science and technology. So yes, it is getting harder to get this scholarship if you apply in HS panel, but it has always been the most competitive field.

While we regretfully do not have detailed data showing how many applicants were from particular sub-disciplines, or what was the quality of proposals in each panel, this is still not the whole story.

According to OECD data from 2012, in ranks of over 30.000 PhD students in Poland more than 52% have accounted for humanities, arts and social sciences. So even if the success rate is lower for HS, it should be also borne in mind that the entry rate is lower than one may expect. Over three editions just over 38 % applicants come from this panel.

As was clear from the first chart, all panels have received less applicants each year. This may be a result of a saturation process: as the scholarship can only be awarded once, the best candidates are being chosen in each edition, and as there are two editions each year, it means that to sustain the level of successful applicants in each panel there should now be more than 70-80 suitable candidates in each cohort.

What the KKHP numbers tell us in reality is that it is more true in life sciences and sciences and technology than in the humanities and social sciences. Etiuda scholarship is hard to apply to. Apart from a research project, it also requires a convincing plan for doing part of the research in a center abroad, most likely of a strong academic stance. We cannot be sure if it is an institutionalized bias against some humanities scholars (esp. those who work on Polish stuff and do not take internationalization into account), or just another sign that when it comes to academic networking humanities and social sciences are not faring very well.

The current edition has very interesting financial repercussions. Less successful applicants from humanities and social sciences means less research money for those fields. As Etiuda program has a stable budget of just over 8m PLN in each edition (~2,15m USD), in this edition candidates from HS have received 700.000 PLN less (27% down from last two editions).

The last thing that we may learn from carefully analyzing the data is the average amount of funds awarded to a successful project. The construction of Etiuda program allows for up to 36.000 PLN scholarship for up to 12 months (and really no reason to apply for less), and a 3-6 months internship abroad with a monthly allowance of 9.000, multiplied by Marie-Curie actions country coefficient. It means that candidate going for a longer time and to a country with a higher coefficient would apply for larger sum from Etiuda.

On average, a successful project was worth 81k in 1st and 2nd edition and 87k in 3rd edition. But interesting things happen when you look for differences between panels.

It is not just that humanities and social sciences have received less money in total for fewer projects. On average, a successful HS project was 13% less costly than NZ and ST project.

Let’s assume that there are no good reasons for PhD students to receive less money rather than more from Etiuda, and all candidates have applied for full 36.000 PLN (an even if not, there are no significant differences between panels). The difference between an average funding applied for the research stay abroad in HS and (treated together) NZ & ST have significantly changed over time. In first edition a successful applicant in HS cost 7% less public money than a med/tech one, in the second one only 84% and now 82%.

So it is now up to you if you think that NCN really discriminates against humanities and social sciences, giving fewer scholarships and only to those applying for smaller sums than NZ and ST panels. Or, maybe despite the superiority in PhD students numbers nationally, humanities and social sciences fare on average even worse in academic as well as internationalization terms. With no access to point rankings of the applications, it is pretty much a leap of faith. The good news for KKHP is that they are right when they say that less applicants from HS were judged worthy of this international scholarship than in previous editions. The bad news, however, is that even they who were successful, have applied for less funds – and 18% is not a statistically negligible.

The main problem of debates on higher education in Poland would remain unsolved. There is not enough data to decide once and for all if the humanities are really treated unequally in terms of research funds. Haters gonna hate. But even the data that we have can be instructive and help us collect partial evidence if those strong allegations are true. As long as you do not believe that humanities require shorter research stays and only in less expensive countries for academic reasons, the data provides evidence that after the first batch of applications young HS scholars are less successful in being invited by academic centers in Western countries than Polish scientists, doctors and engineers. So basically, yes, there is a crisis – but in cadres, not in policy.

 

EDIT: an incredibly interesting stats of PRELUDIUM 8 (grants for early-stage researchers not holding PhD) has just been published by NCN. They show (in a program with more awards and more editions) somehow smaller discrepancies in success rate, but also a 20% prevalence in amount of the award in life sciences (NZ) than in HS and ST.

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