Cash for quantitative and qualitative change

October 18, 2012

A £15.5 million fund aimed at promoting the teaching of quantitative social science has been unveiled.

Departments or groups of departments will be able to bid for up to £350,000 a year over the next five years to establish one of up to 15 specialist centres aimed at providing quantitative skills training for social science undergraduates.

The programme - announced on 18 October - is the brainchild of philanthropic funder the Nuffield Foundation, which is providing £5.5 million.

Pledges of £5 million each have been secured from the Economic and Social Research Council and the Higher Education Funding Council for England.

The paucity of quantitative skills possessed by UK social science graduates is lamented in a position statement, Society Counts, published today by the British Academy.

Writing in this week's Times Higher Education, Ian Diamond, vice-chancellor of the University of Aberdeen and chair of the British Academy High Level Strategy Group on Quantitative Skills, discusses the problem. He says that the sidelining of quantitative skills teaching and the scarcity of academics qualified to provide it means that the majority of social science graduates leave UK universities with inadequate quantitative methods - to the dismay of employers.

Paul Boyle, chief executive of the ESRC, agreed that "a substantial programme of work is required to lead to a major step change in capacity in quantitative methods".

Departments from all areas of social science except economics and experimental psychology are eligible to apply for the funding.

Applications will close in February 2013, with winning bids announced in May. Proposed activities could include the development of courses focused on quantitative methods or the provision of bursary-funded vacation training and work placements.

Sir Alan Langlands, chief executive of Hefce, said the funding council's involvement in the programme was an early response to the evidence the government has tasked it with gathering on strategically important and vulnerable subjects.

"It builds on the extra support we have announced during the past year for the highest-cost (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects, for demand-raising in modern languages ... and for postgraduate taught programmes," he said.

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