A Daily Telegraph story on an independent evaluation of the UK’s £1.5 billion Global Challenges Research Fund (‘Foreign aid money spent on cutting smoking rates among workers in China’, 12 September) suggested that some specific university research projects were somehow undeserving of taxpayers’ money, including a SOAS-led project on “the Tibetan verb”.
The published ICAI evaluation in fact makes no mention of any specific research projects – and the article appears to highlight the SOAS project merely by a superficial take on the title of the project. This has led some to criticise the project on social media, seemingly on the basis of the title alone.
So we asked lead researcher at SOAS, Professor Ulrich Pagel, what does this project actually aim to achieve?
“As set out on the GCRF webpages – “the Tibetan verb” project is not funded with DfID aid money; it is supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. But it does possess significant application in overseas aid, since it seeks to secure the survival of the Tibetans language, and the resulting preservation of Tibetan culture.
“The project is designed to create a dictionary that will improve access to English language materials for Tibetan speakers. Furthermore, new software, prepared as part of the project, will improve access to Tibet-related web-content in the political and economic sphere.
“Since our work supports a language that remains insufficiently understood in many areas, and is under threat online as well as in the real world, the project enjoys the support of NGOs working in Tibet and the diaspora community. It has also attracted interest from within the computing industry, including Google and Microsoft. Google is already drawing on SOAS-led research to drive forward its own language development work.
“In short, this AHRC-funded project, possesses strong and immediate ‘real world’ impact.
“And of course it is right that our nation needs to be concerned that aid monies are well and properly spent. In fact, evidence shows that development aid, humanitarian assistance, medical provisions and educational support are best delivered in conversation with recipients. Something this project supports admirably.”