Europe’s Research Universities Call for Harnessing Breadth of Social Science and Humanities

A new report from a consortium of European research universities says if the European Union really wants to achieve its stated policy goals, it had better heed the advice of the consortium on including the “broadest possible range” of social science and humanities insights.

In the spring of 2021, in the midst of the COVID pandemic, the Guild of European Research-Intensive Universities released a strategic plan for implementing Horizon Europe, the latest in an ongoing series of research funding initiatives from the European Union.  The guild’s plan included a specific call to “ensure the genuine embedding of Social Sciences and Humanities (SSH) in all stages of the implementation of Horizon Europe.”

Specifically (and more bureaucratically), “the objective should be to co-create calls for proposals where the ‘SSH flagged calls’ would have more prominent descriptions of opportunities for SSH contributions. As a result, the selection of projects that answer to these calls would not be possible without a clear contribution of SSH in the funding application.” The plan then more explicitly adds, “A reduction of the number of SSH flagged calls is not a solution for a more successful SSH integration and interdisciplinarity in Horizon Europe.”

The guild released a collateral document “lay[ing] out three key challenges affecting European societies in the coming decades, and illustrate how research and innovation can respond to them whilst contributing to the [United Nations’] Sustainable Development Goals.”

Those challenges were headlined as democratic resilience, societal needs and human resilience in times of technological change, and democratizing language and culture.

Cover of Priorities for Strengthening Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities Research in Horizon Europe position paper

On the last day of January this year, the guild released a position paper outlining its specific priorities for strengthening social science, arts and humanities (SSAH) research in the EU program. The document notes that the pace of challenge in Europe has not abated, with other labor and commodity shortages, inflation and the Russian invasion of Ukraine. “Against this background,” the document reads, “The Guild’s recommendations … have stood the test of time.”

The latest paper includes five general recommendations. The first asks that Horizon Europe continue on the good start already made. It notes that the European Research Council awarded 29 percent of its funding to social science, arts and humanities projects in 2021.

The second recommendation urges Horizon Europe to include SSAH in “frontier research” and to ensure interdisciplinary approaches are the norm, not the exception. A third recommendation makes explicit that this call is for “the breadth” of SSAH.

Offering an example, the guild writes “for a deeper understanding of human conflict, and the relationship between tradition, innovation and transformation in Europe (including the current Russian war of aggression on Ukraine, as well as the humanitarian crisis at the borders of Europe), it is critical to refer to a rich understanding of cultural heritage that includes history, literature, and visual arts, as well as psychology, sociology, politics, international relations, and other perspectives.”

The fourth recommendation calls for “recognizing research impact appropriately,” which the guild defines as not just economically but socially. And when looking for social impact, “it is critical that SSAH researchers should not be made accountable for achieving policy changes.”

The final recommendation requires that all of the above be “effectively integrated” into the larger Horizon Europe enterprise and not just an ornament of “add-on.” Furthermore, the documents details that “it is crucial that [‘interdisciplinarity’] is not used as a synonym for cross-sectoral collaboration – the fact that a project partner works in the social sector does not mean that they represent the Social Sciences perspective in the project.”

The paper represents the contributions of the guild’s Social Science, Arts and Humanities Deans and their appointed experts: Vinicius Mariano de Carvalho (King’s College London), ClaesFredrik Helgesson (Uppsala University), Paula Henrikson (Uppsala University), Evelyn Kroesbergen (Radboud University), Patrizia Leone (University of Bologna), Jürgen Leonhardt (University of Tübingen), Willy Maley (University of Glasgow), Niels Mejlgaard (Aarhus University), Rita Monticelli (University of Bologna), Gabriele Rippl (Bern University), Anti Selart (Tartu University).

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