Horizon 2020 provisions for humanities criticised

Lack of interdisciplinarity and pared funds a cause of concern for social sciences

December 5, 2013

Social sciences and humanities researchers have strongly criticised the provisions for their subjects in the European Commission’s next research and innovation programme, Horizon 2020.

The academics claim that the programme does not have the mechanisms to integrate the fields in the way that policymakers hope, and they have concerns about the amount of funding available.

Horizon 2020 is to begin next year and will replace the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7), which has run since 2007. Under the new scheme, €70 billion (£58 billion) is earmarked for research over the coming seven years.

Earlier this year, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, the European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science, pledged that Horizon 2020 would offer a “bold new vision” for the social sciences and humanities.

Part of the programme will focus funding on tackling the social challenges facing Europe instead of financing specific disciplines.

Seven challenges, including climate change, energy security, green transport and public health, have been listed. Social sciences and humanities research will be embedded in each of them, with almost €30 billion available for research in these areas.

But John Bell, professor of law at the University of Cambridge and chair of the All European Academies’ (ALLEA) Social Sciences and Humanities Working Group, has concerns about whether the correct mechanisms have been set up to integrate social sciences and humanities into the research themes.

He said the fields were “an afterthought” in the framework: “They have not set up the programmes to achieve the same kind of sensible integration that we would do in the UK.”

A consequence of this, he said, could be that the programme might come up with good technical fixes to help tackle the challenges but without the social perspective to truly solve the problems.

On 3 December, the League of European Research Universities published a roadmap to improve the position of social sciences and humanities in Horizon 2020. It highlighted “remarkable differences” in how research in those fields is integrated across each of the seven challenges.

A letter to Ms Geoghegan-Quinn from Dame Helen Wallace, foreign secretary of the British Academy, and Günter Stock, president of the ALLEA, also expressed their disappointment at the content of the draft work programmes for Horizon 2020. They said that they were “very far from providing an interdisciplinary vision”.

Professor Bell, Dame Wallace and Professor Stock also share concerns about the level of funding available for social sciences and humanities in Horizon 2020. All said that less money would be available for researchers compared with FP7.

Their concerns follow a letter on the topic published in Times Higher Education last week.

But Michael Jennings, Ms Geoghegan-Quinn’s spokesman, said that social sciences and humanities were set for a “real boost” in funding. “In the European Research Council alone, we expect social sciences and humanities researchers to receive funding of around €2.2 billion in Horizon 2020, or around €1 billion more than in the current FP7.”

Mr Jennings said that embedding social sciences and humanities research across the social challenges would offer opportunities for funding if researchers “engage”.


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