Open World Research Initiative launched

Date: 21/03/2016

It is a reality for most people that the world we live in is becoming more multicultural, with our exposure to other languages, customs and practices increasing daily. In a country like the UK, we often assume that most people we encounter, here and overseas, will be able to communicate in English and it will always be that way. But what if that were not the truth? The presence of other languages and cultures in society is commonly seen as a problem – how do our children learn in a school where there are multiple different languages being spoken by their fellow pupils; how do we function at work when our colleagues and clients may be on the end of a line anywhere else in the world; how can we explain complex medical conditions to a doctor who may not have trained in the country they are practising in? But what if this exposure to other languages and cultures were not a problem, but presented us with opportunities – increased job prospects, feeling more comfortable visiting other countries and building our self-confidence in communicating with other people in our day-to-day lives?

Under the Open World Research Initiative (OWRI), the AHRC is investing in four major research programmes that aim to explore the central role languages play in relation to key contemporary issues such as social cohesion, migration, security, health, business and diplomacy; and have a substantial impact on the study of modern languages in the UK. The projects will work with over 100 partners, ranging from schools and sixth form colleges to the BBC and government departments, in the UK and internationally. The research will be undertaken across 22 languages and 18 academic disciplines.

Professor Andrew Thompson, Chief Executive, Arts and Humanities Research Council comments: “The AHRC's Open World Research Initiative has an ambitious set of aims. As a major, multi-million pound investment to 2020 in our priority area of Modern Languages, OWRI seeks to raise the profile and visibility of Modern Languages and the crucial role they play - within their universities, within the arts and humanities, and within society more widely. As a highly competitive process, the OWRI funding call challenged researchers, universities and a variety of public and private partners outside of higher education, to reflect on the educational value of modern languages and their potential to address the issues faced by more diverse, multicultural, and multilingual societies at a time of new and accelerating forms of globalisation. The range of universities and partners involved in the four successful projects, which encompass 18 different disciplines, are testimony to the ways in which the communities concerned have risen to the challenge set by the AHRC.”

The programmes being funded are:

Creative Multilingualism led by Professor Katrin Kohl at the University of Oxford with Co-Investigators at:

  • Birmingham City University
  • School of Oriental and African Studies
  • University of Cambridge
  • University of Pittsburgh
  • University of Reading

Cross-Language Dynamics: Reshaping Community led by Professor Stephen Hutchings at the University of Manchester with Co-Investigators at:

  • University of Durham
  • University of London

Language Acts and Worldmaking led by Professor Catherine Boyle at King's College London with Co-Investigators at:

  • Open University
  • University of Westminster
  • Queen Mary University London

Multilingualism: Empowering Individuals, Transforming Societies (MEITS) led by Professor Wendy Ayres-Bennett at the University of Cambridge with Co-Investigators at:

  • University of Edinburgh
  • University of Nottingham
  • Queens University Belfast

Professor Thompson continues: “The Open World Research Initiative sits within the context of AHRC’s wider commitment to modern languages, which includes the support for postgraduate research within Doctoral Training Partnerships and Centres for Doctoral Training, the intersection with the Translating Cultures research theme, alongside individual projects funded through our open call fellowships, grants and networks. The richness and diversity of those projects is one of the reasons we currently have a call live for a Modern Languages Priority Area Fellow, one of whose key tasks will be to bring together, showcase and leverage greater impact from the full range of our awards we make in this field. The AHRC’s flagship Open World Research Initiative will make a vital contribution to our understanding of how modern languages in the UK can best develop to meet the needs of global society over the coming years.”

Professor Michael Worton, CBE comments “Modern languages are increasingly important in our globalised world characterised by migration, international trade and multicultural living. However, the value of languages is still under-appreciated by potential students, employers and Government, and the numbers of young people choosing to study them continues to dwindle.

The OWRI initiative aims to transform the discipline of modern languages and to find a new voice, a new vision and, above all, a new identity for languages. The challenge for each of the successful 4-year projects is to achieve all this through research which is more radically interdisciplinary than hitherto and more imaginatively collaborative with dynamic partnerships with other universities, with schools and, crucially, with non-academic organisations in the UK and abroad.

The transformations which they envisage should change the place and profile of languages in universities and, more broadly, should help us all better to understand why languages matter so very much today.”

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