Social science emulates scientific method to escape retrenchment

Academy's campaign aims to repeat science lobby's CSR successes. Paul Jump reports

January 20, 2011

Social scientists are hoping to emulate the success of the science lobby by embarking on a major campaign to guard against future funding cuts and bolster student numbers.

The Academy of Social Sciences' Campaign for Social Science, launched at the House of Lords this week, aims to raise awareness of the benefits of social science to society and the economy, as well as the advantages of a social science education to individuals.

It comes amid fears over the impact of higher tuition fees on future student enrolment in the subject and follows government plans to end public funding for teaching in the humanities and social sciences.

Stephen Anderson, executive director of the Academy of Social Sciences, described the campaign as the most important one in the body's 10-year history, reflecting its "increasing confidence and growing maturity as an organisation". It will lobby MPs, work to place social science stories in the media and encourage practitioners of the discipline to publicise their work and become popular communicators.

The organisation hopes to raise £250,000 through a series of awareness-raising "roadshows" at universities across the UK, which will be used over five years to fund a "public engagement unit" to support outreach by social scientists.

"In some ways we hope to emulate the success of the Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE)," said Tony Crook, former pro vice-chancellor of the University of Sheffield and chairman of the Academy of Social Sciences board that is overseeing the campaign and appeal.

He said that the relative protection given to the science budget in last October's Comprehensive Spending Review "shows that kind of campaigning can succeed - but it is a long haul". CaSE celebrated its 25th birthday last week.

Professor Crook said that the Academy of Social Sciences had begun to raise awareness of the discipline last year, but the stakes had been raised as a result of the coalition government's plans to phase out teaching funding for the subject.

"We are concerned about the impact of the general rundown of the research capability if fewer students say they want to pay to do social sciences," he added.

Kate Roach, the campaign's public-engagement officer, said increased public understanding of the value of social science would make it harder for the government to introduce further funding cuts, and would ensure that social science degrees remained popular with students.

"If you are moving into a market situation and no one knows what you are selling, it is very difficult," she said.

Professor Crook admitted that the Economic and Social Research Council had received a better allocation - an average 2.6 per cent cash-terms cut over the CSR period - than many had predicted, but feared deep cuts in the amount of social science research that the government carries out in-house and commissions from academics.

He expected most of the funding for the campaign to come from social scientists, but said that some social science publishers had made donations out of "enlightened self-interest".

One major social science publisher, SAGE, last week launched an online network, Social Science Space, aimed at championing the social sciences by "bringing together researchers, funders, societies, think tanks and policymakers from around the world to explore, share and debate the major issues" in the discipline.

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