Statement on Sir Mark Walport’s speech on UK Research and Innovation

July 7, 2017

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The Campaign for Social Science welcomes the speech on 4 July by Sir Mark Walport, Chief Executive-Designate of UKRI, in which he said that investment in all areas of research will be needed if the UK is to maintain its global excellence. Many of the issues he identified are those where social science is essential, including population growth, migration, relations between science and society in an age of social media, poverty, ageing, security, economic growth, sustainable development, good governance, and human rights.

Ashley Thomas Lenihan, Senior Policy Adviser at the Campaign for Social Science, said “We welcome the call for involvement of all types of research, and were glad to see recognition of a range of social challenges in Sir Mark’s speech. Greater understanding of human behaviour is essential if many other issues he mentioned are to be addressed, such as behaviour change relevant to health (see our recent Health of People report), improvements in productivity, and climate change. We welcome too Sir Mark’s recognition that the changing landscape will need stronger data skills. This will require investment in the skills of the next generation of social scientists, as well as an urgent drive to open up de-identified data sources, which is still a work in progress within health and government.”

Sir Mark stated that in future UKRI would review the allocation of funding across disciplines, focusing on excellence rather than a mechanistic scaling-up of current allocations The recent Naylor Review in Canada looked at this question within the Canadian system, and concluded that the social sciences and humanities are, in relative terms, underfunded. UK social science could benefit from a similar review, though the social sciences themselves will need to engage with new substantive areas and skills to meet the challenges that public funding must address. The Academy of Social Sciences and its Campaign stand ready to contribute to the dialogue signalled by Sir Mark as UKRI develops its research and funding agendas.

The Campaign for Social Science also welcomes the announcement by Jo Johnson, the Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, of the new £100 million Rutherford Fund, which will be used ‘to attract highly skilled researchers to the UK’, from both developed and developing countries. We encourage UKRI and the UK government to continue to think strategically about how to ensure a flexible immigration system for the higher education and research sector, to ensure that the UK retains the skills and diversity needed for a healthy and vibrant science community at the forefront of research and innovation through global collaboration. This includes ensuring that social scientists are included in the recruitment of Rutherford Fellows.

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