After the Referendum – What Next for UK Social Science?


Britain has voted to leave the European Union. Professor Roger Goodman FAcSS, chair of the Academy of Social Sciences, says ‘This will result in uncertainty for the social science community, with implications for research funding, international collaboration, freedom of movement, and capacity building.’

Academy of Social Sciences logoThe Academy of Social Sciences and its Campaign for Social Science summarize the vote’s implications for UK social sciences in a longer briefing note. Key points include:

  • Until now, the UK social science community has benefitted from EU research funding and has outperformed social science in other EU member states and in comparison to other disciplines in the UK, as detailed in Professor Linda Hantrais FAcSS’ Academy Professional Briefing on the ‘Implications of the EU Referendum for UK Social Science.’
  • British research output has increased significantly over the past 35 years, and for UK social science research this rise in volume is due in part to a rise in international collaboration. Research publications resulting from international collaborations have much greater citation impacts, and our European colleagues have been an important source of this collaboration.
  • The UK higher education and research communities have also benefited from the freedom of movement afforded by our membership of the EU. Universities and research organisations have been able to draw on a pool of international talent, universities have recruited EU students, and ease of travel has enabled UK postdoctoral researchers to find research and teaching jobs abroad.
  • UK social scientists have also contributed to, and benefitted from, capacity building efforts within the European Union. Indeed, ‘the UK punches above its weight as a research nation’ in terms of its expenditure on research versus its impact globally, and social science research has been a particular source of excellence within this broader community.

In light of the UK referendum decision to leave the EU, the Academy of Social Sciences and its Campaign for Social Science believe the Government will need to consider the implications for UK research in its post-referendum negotiations if UK research excellence is to be protected.

Specifically, the UK Government will need to:

  • Consider the nature and structure of access to European research funding, which will be affected by decisions on whether or not we become an EFTA EEA country, and how we approach freedom of movement. Our longer note discusses differences between some possible models, including the Swiss and Norwegian, for research funding and collaboration. Consideration should be given to the implications of any model for participation, funding, and leadership within the European Research Area and its framework programs, including Horizon 2020.
  • Consider making good any shortfall in funding (the UK is a net beneficiary) in order to preserve UK social science excellence if the negotiated terms do not allow UK researchers access to EU funding as an associated country.
  • Mitigate the impact on the freedom of movement of international social science research talent into UK, to ensure that future immigration policies do not pose unreasonable barriers to entry to UK academic posts and to specialist social science research posts outside academe. The Government will also need to consider whether EU students will continue to have access to UK HEIs on the same terms.

The UK social science community will itself need to:

  • Mend fences following the heated debate of recent months, and consider how to continue and develop fruitful research collaborations with European peers.
  • Consider how to foster freedom of movement in an increasingly international research community, including programs that allow members of the international research and student communities, particularly those hailing from the EU, to study and work in the UK.

Academy of Social Sciences

The Academy of Social Science’s mission is to promote social sciences in the United Kingdom for the public benefit. The academy is composed of individual academicians and learned societies; it responds to government and other consultations on behalf of the social science community, organizes meetings about social science and seminars on topics that span social science disciplines, and sponsors a number of efforts that promote social science and enhance its value to society.

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