Faraday Discovery Fellowships a missed opportunity for social science

In the wake of the announcement of the UK’s new long-term research fellowships last week, the Academy of Social Sciences has criticised the narrow focus of the new Faraday Discovery Fellowships which are due to launch in 2024.

Announced in the autumn statement, the Fellowships are stated to be open to all STEM areas and will be funded by money remaining from the UK’s delayed association to the EU’s Horizon Europe programme (£). The Academy believes this is a missed opportunity for researchers working in the social sciences, given that the plan for such a scheme under the Pioneer programme had intended to include all disciplines, as does the Horizon Europe programme.

Dr Rita Gardner, Chief Executive of the Academy of Social Sciences, said, “It is extremely disappointing that the Faraday Discovery Fellowships will not include opportunities for researchers working in the social sciences, as was originally envisioned in the Pioneer prospectus. To address the UK’s and world’s greatest challenges effectively, including productivity, climate change and future pandemic response, and to take sound social and economic advantage of new technology developments, including AI, a combination of both STEM and social science pioneering research and skills are needed.

For example, social science research played a fundamental role in the mitigation of and recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic. Social scientists’ understanding of human behaviours, relationships and institutions proved vital in the effective delivery of mass vaccination programmes and managing social restrictions. In effect, helping to reduce the burden on the UK’s health services. Elsewhere, social science research provided essential, real-time evidence to the Bank of England and UK Government on how companies were faring throughout the pandemic, which directly informed policy adjustments including the furlough scheme.

While science delivers essential technical innovation, social science research is vital to its social and economic realisation: underpinning business management, societal engagement, upskilling of the labour force, legal and ethical frameworks, and international relations, to name but a few areas.

The exclusion of social science from the Faraday Discovery Fellowships is a missed opportunity by the Government in Whitehall.”