£15.5 million for quantitative methods training for social science undergraduates

16 October 2012

The Nuffield Foundation, the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) have launched a major new £15.5 million programme designed to promote a step-change in quantitative methods training for social science undergraduates in the UK.

Over a five-year period, up to 15 specialist centres will receive funding to provide quantitative skills training in social science disciplines. The aim is to produce a cohort of quantitatively-skilled social science graduates, as well as to embed long-term institutional change to provide more and better quantitative methods training in UK universities.

The programme is a strategic response to the critical shortage of quantitatively trained social scientists in the UK, which has led to employers across all sectors unable to recruit people with the skills to apply quantitative methods to evaluating evidence and analysing data. A summary of the evidence of this shortage is presented in a position statement published by the British Academy today (Society Counts), which is welcomed by the funders of this new programme.

How the programme will work

Undergraduate departments or groups of departments within Higher Education Institutions are invited to apply for funding of up to £350,000 a year for up to five years to develop and deliver a wide range of training activities to embed quantitative skills training and a deep understanding of research design.

In addition to funding for their individual programme of activities, successful institutions will form a network of specialist centres, which will benefit from a supporting programme designed to facilitate the exchange of ideas and expertise and encourage joint activities. In time, many of the materials and lessons from these centres will be disseminated throughout the higher education sector, to encourage other institutions to address this issue. 

Institutions are encouraged to be innovative and experimental in their proposed programmes of activities, but examples could include the development of new courses with significant focus on quantitative methods; the development of vacation training activities and work placements, and bursaries for students to attend them; and developing links between undergraduate and postgraduate provision for quantitative methods training.

Sharon Witherspoon, Director of the Nuffield Foundation said:

“We are delighted to launch this important partnership between a leading philanthropic funder, the lead funding body for social science research and the Higher Education Funding Council for England.

“This partnership arises from our shared judgement that we need a dramatic improvement in the quantitative skills in UK social science. Our aim is to stimulate change at an institutional level as well as to produce a cohort of appropriately skilled students.”

Professor Paul Boyle, Chief Executive of the ESRC said:

“The ESRC is delighted to be working in collaboration with the Nuffield Foundation and HEFCE to fund a network of undergraduate centres specialising in quantitative methods. Previous positive work has been undertaken to build capacity in quantitative methods, but . the skills deficit is an enduring problem and a substantial programme of work is required to lead to a major step-change in capacity in quantitative methods.”

Sir Alan Langlands, Chief Executive of HEFCE said:

‘We are very pleased to work with the Nuffield Foundation and ESRC on this new initiative, which typifies our collaborative approach to supporting strategically important and vulnerable subjects. We have been gathering advice and evidence on risks to subjects since the government asked us to consider this in its higher education White Paper. This initiative represents an early response to this evidence and it builds on the extra support we have announced during the last year for the highest cost STEM subjects, for demand-raising in modern languages and the year abroad, and for postgraduate taught programmes.”  

Process and timetable

Applications must come from an undergraduate department or group of departments within a single UK Higher Education Institution (HEI). Departments covering a range of social science disciplines are eligible, with the exception of economics and experimental psychology, where there is not the same degree of skills shortage.

Universities can find out more about the programme and the application process at an event at the British Academy on Friday 19 October, and another at Manchester University on 8 November.

Applications will close in February 2013, and assessment will be by peer review and interview panels. Successful centres will be announced in May 2013.

ENDS

Contact: Frances Bright, Communications Manager, Nuffield Foundation on (0)20 7681 9586  or fbright@nuffieldfoundation.org.

Notes to editors

1. The focus of the programme is on enhancing quantiative methods skills in social science disciplines other than economics or experimental psychology. Departments covering the following disciplines would therefore be eligible for inclusion: area studies; demography; education; development studies; economic and social history; human geography; management and business studies; linguistics; political studies and international relations; social anthropology; social policy; social psychology; social work; socio-legal studies; sociology.

2. Of the £15.5 million, £5.5 million has been contributed by the Nuffield Foundation, and £5 million each from the ESRC and HEFCE.

3. A summary of the evidence for the shortage of quantitative skills presented is a position statement published by the British Academy on Thursday 18 October (Society Counts), which is welcomed by the funders of this new programme. The paper calls for action across the board to develop and deliver a national strategy to ensure the UK retains its place as a leader in research and higher education, and that graduates are equipped with the skills necessary for competitiveness, professional development and employability.

4.The Nuffield Foundation is an endowed charitable trust that aims to improve social well-being in the widest sense. It funds research and innovation in education and social policy and also works to build capacity in education, science and social science research.

5. The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK's largest organisation for funding research on economic and social issues. It supports independent, high quality research which has an impact on business, the public sector and the third sector. The ESRC’s total budget for 2012/13 is £205 million. At any one time the ESRC supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and independent research institutes. More at www.esrc.ac.uk

6. HEFCE distributes public money for higher education to universities and colleges in England, and ensures that this money is used to deliver the greatest benefit to students and the wider public (www.hefce.ac.uk). HEFCE continues to support quantitative social science within the framework of its programme of support for subjects considered strategically important and vulnerable.