At the beginning of November 2011 an open letter was published online calling for a social science and humanities research programme to be integrated into the new European Framework Programme Horizon 2020. Professor Milena Zic-Fuchs, one of the people behind the letter and Chair of the European Science Foundation Standing Committee for the Humanities, spoke to socialsciencespace about the reasons for the open letter and the reaction that it has received.
Why did you feel such an open letter was necessary?
In a sense the open letter was the tip of the iceberg, because before we instigated the whole procedure there had been a very strong reaction in the European community from humanities and social sciences to the initial green paper to Horizon 2020 – From Challenges to Opportunities: Towards a Common Strategic Framework for EU Research and Innovation funding – in which there was absolutely no mention of any humanities or social sciences, either in terms of its own separate challenge or as a trans-disciplinary dimension of other challenges. A task-force was then set up, comprising of representatives from the net4societ, ALLEA, the European Science Foundation’s standing committees in the humanities and social sciences, as well as EU-level and national-level funders of all kinds. This task-force first met in Dec 2010, and over the following year we had a number of workshops and meetings with colleagues from the commission,, as well as many meetings in the commission itself. The reason for the open letter was that we realised that this huge community within the domains of the social sciences and the humanities had to have a public voice, and we wanted our views endorsed by this large community.
What reaction did the open letter receive from the Social Sciences and Humanities community?
Since the open letter was officially sent out at the beginning of November last year, it has accumulated over twenty-four thousand signatures from all over the world. The numbers speak for themselves to a certain extent, but what also happened was more and more voices were heard saying that we should form an alliance of these two big research domains. This would enable us to react in the future to similar green papers that affected the whole community as well as addressing questions that are of particular relevance to the humanities and social sciences.
On December 20th 2011 we had the founding meeting of the European Alliance for Social Sciences and Humanities, with representatives of all pan-European bodies that deal with the social sciences and humanities as well as disciplinary associations in both the domains, and in March this year we will have our first general assembly.
What reaction did the open letter receive from the European Commission?
There has been an accumulation of positive energy and our voice has been heard. On November 10th 2011the British Academy organized a meeting with the European Commissioner for Research and Innovation, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, at which she gave a speech entitled The Future of Social Sciences and Humanities in Horizon 2020, and in it she welcomed and stressed the necessity of including the social sciences and humanities. In the final version of the Horizon 2020 that was sent to the European parliament at the end of November 2011, there is now a sixth challenge that was lacking in the original green paper and this challenge is in part about social sciences and the humanities. What is more, the necessity of including the social sciences and the humanities has also been integrated horizontally into each of the other five challenges.
Looking back now at the whole story, from the Green Paper and the reactions to it, to the open letter itself and the meeting with the commissioner at the British Academy, it has led to a very positive development. Europe needs a voice for the social sciences and the humanities. This is not the end; I just think it’s another beginning.