The Academy has issued the following statement in response to the Browne Review and the Comprehensive Spending Review announcement of 20 October 2010:
The social sciences make a vital contribution to UK economy and society. As a recent report has noted (BA evidence to Smith review), UK social science research is a world leader. In a recent international ranking of social science in universities (Jiao Tong), the UK has more institutions in the top 100 globally than any other country outside the USA. On this basis and in terms of its impact through citations UK social science outperforms UK natural sciences and mathematics. And, in an economy whose future prospects are dominated by the service industries, the continued demand for well qualified social science graduates and high quality social science research is evident.
In the light of this, the Academy views with the greatest concern the recent Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) decisions and the impact of Lord Browne’s proposals for the reform of student support and university funding. In relation to the CSR, the proposal to maintain the science budget in cash terms means, in effect, a significant cut in resources for the Research Councils. As yet it is unclear whether these reductions in support (and support for university research through the QR grant and government research commissioning) will be particularly concentrated on the social sciences. We fear that this may be the case.
That fear is underscored by the Browne proposal (which the government broadly accepts) to remove all T grant for social science subjects. So responsibility for the future viability of the social sciences in our universities is to be abrogated by government and will be entirely determined by a new and untested market, which as the Higher Education Policy Institute has noted, will charge the highest fees of any public university system in the world.
Although the Browne Review only directly applies to higher education in England, the impacts of policy decisions arising from it will be felt across the UK. As teaching support is withdrawn from English institutions and fees increased, so there will be unknown and uncertain, but undoubtedly profound, effects on the funding environment for universities in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. The economic downturn is particularly severe in these countries, so the demand and the need for informed social science research will be greater. Yet the other cuts generated by the CSR in Research Council and departmental budgets will restrict their capacity to maintain their contribution to the UK’s standing in the world of applied and relevant research.
The vital contribution of social science to the UK has been gravely underestimated by government. The Academy will seek in conjunction with others to make the consequences of these prospective changes clear to government and the public.
The Academy is launching a Development Appeal on 20th January 2011 to raise £250,000 to campaign for the social sciences. Further news about the campaign will be issued nearer the time.