Get out of your silos and muck in

Humanities and social sciences must cultivate new fields to win Euro cash. Elizabeth Gibney reports

May 17, 2012

Social science and humanities scholars have been told that they must take responsibility for integrating their fields with others in the next European research funding programme.

Robert-Jan Smits, director general of research and innovation at the European Commission, hit back at academics calling for these subjects to receive their own funding line in the proposed EUR80 billion (£64 billion) Horizon 2020 scheme.

"There has been enormous criticism about not having a dedicated programme, and I take full responsibility for that because I proposed it," he told the League of European Research Universities' 10th anniversary conference in Barcelona on 10 May.

"The social sciences and humanities have ... to get out of these silos and contribute to the enormous challenge that we're facing."

Mr Smits said the Commission received hundreds of letters in response to its proposals, which were announced in November last year, but not a single one said that academics in these subjects were willing to take on that challenge.

The Commission's programme for 2014 to 2020 is split into three streams: excellent science, industrial leadership and societal challenges. Social sciences and the humanities are expected to be fed from the "inclusive, innovative and secure societies" strand of the third stream.

However, the Commission also wants to see social scientists applying their expertise across all societal challenges, as well as integrating their work within the science stream.

"We need the social sciences to take part and to work with other disciplines, and the other disciplines need the social sciences to tackle the grand challenges," said Helga No-wotny, president of the European Research Council, also on 10 May.

But she accepted that academics in these fields needed better organisation and fewer teaching responsibilities to fully contribute.

Meanwhile, at the event's opening ceremony on 9 May, Douwe Breimer, former rector of Leiden University in the Netherlands, said there was a tendency to underestimate the value of the social sciences.

Giving one example, he said: "Money is wasted every year as patients don't take medicines as prescribed. Why? There must be factors that caused this failure; that certainly is not well understood."

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