New report highlights challenges and opportunities for Latin American and Caribbean research community

Wednesday 21 January 2015

Changes in higher education and funding cuts have contributed to challenges for researchers of Latin American and Caribbean countries in UK universities, according to a new report released by the School of Advanced Study’s Institute of Latin American Studies (ILAS).

Despite being one of the fastest-developing regions in the world with a growth market that is commanding the attention of politicians worldwide, and with more researchers than ever wanting to focus on the region, the ‘State of UK-Based Research on Latin America and the Caribbean’ report found that many institutions are either closing or rationalising specialist centres.

Professor Antoni Kapcia, from the University of Nottingham, who chaired the Report’s Steering Group, comments that, ‘Having embarked on the study because of growing fears that Latin American and Caribbean Studies were at a crossroads, we actually found in the end a very varied and complex picture, encouraging and worrying us all in equal measure, but certainly confirming the need for recognition of the importance of the subject, to match the growing importance of the region.’

The research, which was funded by the British Academy’s International Engagement Committee, solicited the views of more than 100 people from universities, government departments, funding agencies, cultural institutions and non-governmental organisations in two stages: 2009–10 and 2012–13.

The overall picture is complex. While the report identifies and highlights the challenges and vulnerabilities of this research community, it also reveals a number of positives that could easily have been overlooked. Sometimes these aspects of good and bad news coexist.

For example the report finds an increasingly diverse community of doctoral students and a proliferation of regional academic Latin American and Caribbean-related networks and activities. But there is a tension between interdepartmental and departmental approaches that has not been helped by university structures and assessment regimes.

Key findings of the report:
Positives
● Aspects of Latin America are now studied (including at undergraduate level) in a vastly increased range of departments, centres and institutions than was the case in the 1960s. This, in turn, has either generated or been reflected in an increase in postgraduate and postdoctoral research on the region. More researchers than ever are working on the region.

● The area of cultural studies has expanded to become a significant and distinct area of Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) research.

● UK-based LAC researchers are regularly consulted by national and international agencies, government departments, multilateral agencies, international organisations, commercial operations and the media.

Challenges
● While the number of researchers working on the region has grown, scholarship focuses on a relatively small number of countries. Only Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Cuba, Peru and Colombia are studied by more than 40 researchers. Research on the Caribbean has expanded, but it is still relatively sparse and dominated by research on Anglophone countries.

● With limited funding opportunities for masters and doctoral research, the UK offers no equivalents of the teaching or research assistantships offered by US universities. At the same time higher costs are intensifying competition between academics and institutions for limited funding.

● Study of the region is vulnerable in the face of retirements and changes in individual university policies. The closure of centres at Liverpool, Glasgow and LMU is a matter of serious concern for the UK’s ability to sustain the study of the region.

-Ends-

Notes for editors:
1. For further information please contact Maureen McTaggart, Media and Public Relations Officer, School of Advanced Study, University of London +44 (0)20 7862 8653 / Maureen.mctaggart@sas.ac.uk. Images available on request.

2. The Institute of Latin American Studies (ILAS) was founded in 1965. Between 2004 and 2013 it formed part of the Institute for the Study of the Americas and occupies a unique position at the core of academic study of the region in the UK. Internationally recognised as a centre of excellence for research facilitation, it serves the wider community through organising academic events, providing online research resources, publishing scholarly writings and hosting visiting fellows. It possesses a world-class library dedicated to the study of Latin America and is the administrative home of the highly respected Journal of Latin American Studies. The Institute supports scholarship across a wide range of subject fields in the humanities and cognate social sciences and actively maintains and builds ties with cultural, diplomatic and business organisations with interests in Latin America. www.ilas.sas.ac.uk

3. The School of Advanced Study (SAS), University of London, is the UK’s national centre for the promotion and support of research in the humanities and celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2015. It was officially opened on 15 March 1995, by Sir Anthony Kenny as a federation of the University of London’s research institutes and, since then, has established itself as the UK’s national humanities hub, publicly funded to support and promote research in the humanities nationally and internationally. SAS and its member institutes offer unparalleled academic opportunities, facilities and stimulation across a wide range of subject areas for the benefit of the national and international scholarly community. In 2013-14, SAS: welcomed 743 research fellows and associates; held 2,081 research dissemination events; received 26.4 million visits to its digital research resources and platforms; and received 202,891 visits to its specialist libraries and collections. A series of anniversary events and activities will take place throughout 2015. Find out more at www.sas.ac.uk or follow SAS on Twitter at @SASNews.