Academy and Campaign welcome Industrial Strategy White Paper

29 November 2017

The Academy of Social Sciences and its Campaign for Social Science welcome the government’s Industrial Strategy White Paper, and set out the vital role the social sciences can and must play in achieving its aims.

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The Academy and Campaign commend the “wide-ranging approach” of the government’s strategy based on people, infrastructure, business development, and places, as well as the White Paper’s explicit recognition of the importance of universities and the research sector to the economy and its future growth.

The response recognises that delivering on the Strategy’s four Grand Challenges – artificial intelligence (AI) and the data economy, clean growth, the future of mobility, and meeting the needs of an ageing society – requires both STEM and social science input and collaboration, and identifies ways in which the social sciences can contribute to each theme.

A strategy based on ideas, people, infrastructure, the business environment, and places not only demonstrates a wide-ranging approach by government, but also highlights the importance of the social sciences to achieving many of its aims.

The Academy and Campaign welcome the government’s willingness to listen to and consult with private sector and academic experts on the main issues addressed in the White Paper. To that end, they recommend that expert advisors include representatives from the social sciences as well as the technical and practitioner communities in each area. They note that robust evidence from the social sciences will also be important in identifying future areas of investment for the Industrial Challenge Strategy Fund and the National Productivity Investment Fund.

On artificial intelligence, they say that putting the UK at the forefront of this revolution will require behavioural scientists, economists, and lawyers so that development, regulation, and commercialisation of AI and robotic technologies retains public support and work on behalf of the public. Similarly, newly-announced institutions such as a government Office for AI, and an international Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation would benefit from social scientists to help address ethical, regulatory, and social challenges.

While the Industrial Strategy rightly emphasises improving UK productivity, the Academy and Campaign note that there is little detail about how the government will address the “long tail” of underperforming enterprises that account for a significant component of the UK’s productivity puzzle. The large body of social science evidence and skills can help government develop appropriate policy interventions in these areas, requiring a continued programme of experiment, innovation and learning to work out practical means of improving productivity in different sectors.

The Academy and Campaign reiterate previous points around the need for greater data and number skills, urging the government to re-think policies about maths and statistics AS levels, and to provide additional funding to encourage greater take-up of these. They also call for further clarity and measures to ensure that the UK is able to continue to attract and retain international researchers and teachers across all areas needed for the Industrial Strategy, including social scientists in particular areas and those with quantitative skills.

Ensuring that national and local policy-makers, investors, workers and others have the appropriate incentives and skills to foster the development of initial innovations into sustainable industries requires learning from social science evidence.

The response also restates previous points on the importance of universities and other institutions as part of the national infrastructure for productivity and growth. Social science evidence can play a critical role in understanding not only how best to drive regional growth, but also how universities can be used to anchor such developments. Together, the social science and higher education communities can help policy makers support research and foster innovation in local areas by building capacity for collaborative working across research, commercial businesses, government and civil society. Further support in this area would help drive a place-based innovation strategy and provide a boost to “left-behind” cities and regions.

Commenting, Dr Ashley Thomas Lenihan, Senior Policy Adviser at the Academy and Campaign, said:

“Tackling the grand challenges addressed by the Industrial Strategy requires broad cooperation across both the social sciences and STEM communities. To meet its goals, we need to make sure relevant disciplines are properly resourced to support the research and innovation necessary to turn big ideas into practical large-scale solutions.

“From cracking the productivity puzzle and ensuring we have the skills needed for the future, to improving infrastructure and boosting local and regional growth, the social sciences have a pivotal role to play in delivering on the Industrial Strategy’s promise and ambitions.”

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