Social Science has the power to ‘level up’ the UK, according to new Academy of Social Sciences report

Social scientists are making powerful practical contributions to ‘Levelling up’ cities, regions or countries in the UK – improving economic growth, services and the quality of life for people and businesses in these places. This is the headline message of a new report published today by the Academy of Social Sciences in partnership with SAGE Publishing. It is a timely report as Whitehall prepares new ‘levelling up’ plans.

The Place to Be brings together 24 case studies showcasing what university-based social scientists are doing now to make local areas, businesses and public services better and improve social and economic outcomes. It is a sample of the breadth and depth of the work being done across the social sciences to address these issues.

The report highlights projects that work with private sector businesses as well as local governments, health and education bodies to make real practical improvements.  Some also work with STEM colleagues in areas such as transport planning, health improvements, ageing, or data science projects.  The report shows that most social science disciplines are involved in this work, contributing to the ‘levelling up’ of local areas and communities.

Junior Minister for Levelling up, Neil O’Brien MP has set out core themes of ‘levelling up’ as: empowering leaders and communities; growing the private sector and boosting living standards; spreading opportunity and boosting public services; and restoring local pride. Our case studies demonstrate how important robust social science is in realising this vision.

The report has six key messages:

1. Social sciences matter for ‘levelling up’. Using social science makes a difference to ‘levelling-up’ plans and outcomes.

2. Virtually every social science discipline – economics, geography, demography, political studies, business and management, education, sociology, psychology, social statistics and others – has a part to play.

3. University-based social scientists often do this work as part of the civic mission of their university, a role that universities take seriously and which many fund themselves to make their areas better.

4. Results often arise when funding from universities and local businesses or local authorities is based on long-term partnerships. Having clear and stable funding to support this work matters.

5. Social scientists increasingly use complex data, often working with computational social science experts to make sense of social characteristics, patterns of behaviour, or data that links economic, social and physical statistics. COVID-19 showed how essential these data can be. We need more social scientists with these skills, and even better and more accessible data for them to use.

6. Local areas would benefit even more if there was more co-ordination in support, more partnership working across institutions in particular areas, and more learning about what works.

Welcoming the publication of the new report, Will Hutton FAcSS, President of the Academy of Social Sciences said:

“Social Science is rich in knowledge about how economy and society work best. Here is a pathbreaking report detailing how across the country social scientists are stepping out from the lecture room to deploy what they know to help address a host of real world challenges. It is Social Science in action! “

Also welcoming the new publication, Lord Bob Kerslake, Chair of Sheffield Hallam University and the UK2070 Commission, highlighted the important lessons to be learned from the case studies. He said:

“This report provides powerful evidence through its case studies of the vital importance of the civic role of Universities in general and of social scientists in particular in the economic and social wellbeing of their places. Successful rebalancing or levelling up the UK will require comprehensive, long term and large scale action across a wide range of areas. It can only be delivered in places with strong local leadership and effective local capacity. Universities in their civic role can be major contributors to both. The challenge is how to ensure that contribution is there for the places that need it most.”

Professor Sir David Eastwood, Birmingham University Vice Chancellor, endorsed the new report for showcasing the universities’ contributions to thriving and prosperous regions. He said:

“This report demonstrates the impact of university social science research across a range of important challenges, from ‘levelling up’ to education, crime and justice, reducing inequality and supporting healthy ageing. At Birmingham, we know from our partnerships with civic institutions across Birmingham and the West Midlands how significant social science has been through the pandemic, and how important universities are to thriving and prosperous regions.”

Professor Simone Buitendijk, Vice-Chancellor, University of Leeds, also emphasised the report’s significance for highlighting universities’ civic work in local areas led by social scientists. She said:

“Working as a community of high-impact institutions, we are able to help address issues that affect us all, including creating a more equitable world. This new report demonstrates quite clearly the crucial role social sciences play in that aim, through collaborative working on local, regional and national levels. Using their expertise and creativity, social scientists here at Leeds are collaborating with both public and private sector organisations to tackle real-world issues ranging from crime and anti-social behaviour to understanding food waste patterns and delivering more efficient public services.”

Download the full report


Notes to Editor

For further information and interviews contact:
Chizom Ekeh (Senior Communications Manager)
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About the Academy of Social Sciences

The Academy of Social Sciences is the national academy of academics, practitioners and learned societies in the social sciences. The sector’s leading independent voice in the UK, we champion the vital role social sciences play in education, governments and business. This report has been kindly supported by SAGE Publishing.

The social sciences include: anthropology; business, finance & management; development studies; economics; economic & social history; education; human geography; law; planning; politics; regional studies; sociology; social policy; social psychology; social statistics & methodologies.