Impact Reassessment: Call to Vaunt Social Sciences' Value

By Reisz, Matthew | The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE, January 9, 2014 | Go to article overview

Impact Reassessment: Call to Vaunt Social Sciences' Value


Reisz, Matthew, The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE


'Shorter, better, faster, free' research, and a bigger share of funding, will see disciplines fulfil potential for today's UK, Matthew Reisz hears.

Researchers at the London School of Economics have urged social scientists to join forces across disciplines and make far better use of the "impact" agenda to demonstrate how much they can contribute to the economy and society.

Their call follows research published this week that suggests that social science is worth around Pounds 2.7 billion in direct value to the UK economy. "Nobody had a picture of the scale of university social science and how strong it is in terms of bringing in students and exporting research to other parts of the world," said Patrick Dunleavy, professor of political science and public policy at the LSE. "With the indirect and induced multiplier effects it comes to just under Pounds 5 billion."

The data have emerged from a project carried out since 2009 by Professor Dunleavy and his colleagues in the LSE's department of government, senior research fellow Simon Bastow and research fellow Jane Tinkler. They have just published the results in a new book, The Impact of the Social Sciences: How Academics and Their Research Make a Difference.

Although the term "impact" "may have a dubious heritage" and crops up so often in academic conversations "for bureaucratic reasons", argued Professor Dunleavy, it is also "a great lens for focusing on how you need to change".

With social science now at a crossroads, their book aims to provide detailed evidence of just how important these disciplines are to public policymaking, business and the third sector, and of the influence they have, via the media, on public thinking.

The authors also hope to strengthen the case that the social sciences deserve far more than their present share of around 12 per cent of the total research grants and contract funds flowing to UK universities, while STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects get 85 per cent of total research grants.

"We are arguing that we need to stop thinking in terms of social versus physical sciences," explained Professor Dunleavy, "but in terms of three categories of disciplines, concerned with human-dominated systems, human- influenced systems and almost completely natural systems, most of which are off-planet."

He said that although the social sciences are focused on "human-dominated systems, essentially the detailed organisation of an advanced industrial society", they are increasingly important in the study of "human- influenced systems" such as the planet's climate. …

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