Policy update – February 2024

Ed Bridges, Head of Policy and Public Affairs, Academy of Social Sciences 


The most significant featuring of the social sciences within the policy landscape over the last month has been through our own two recent research reports.

The first report examined the ‘secret sauce’ of the social sciences in effective application of STEM research. The report underlines why social science must be at the heart of research policy, and we will be advocating for the UK Government to take on board its key recommendations. Furthermore, we will be engaging with political parties and civil society about how this symbiotic relationship between the social sciences and STEM can be better supported and understood. As if to emphasise why a challenge is needed to the UK Government’s predominant focus on STEM, a consultation was launched in mid-January over the establishment of a new UK National Academy of Mathematical Sciences.

The second report, commissioned jointly with the British Academy, highlights the tangible impact of the UK’s SHAPE research on the wellbeing of society, culture, and the economy through a collection of case studies. Again, in the coming weeks we will be shining a spotlight on some of the case studies relating to the social sciences, and using these to tell the story of the real-life tangible impact of social science research across (and beyond) the UK. In particular, we will argue that the report and the case studies it cites are a timely demonstration of the world-leading social science research being undertaken in UK universities.

Other news in brief

  • DSIT priorities for 2024: The UK Government’s science secretary, Michelle Donelan, listed “skills, scaling-up and regulations” as her top three priorities for 2024. She indicated her intention to “double down” on ensuring that the UK has the skills pipeline to become a science and technology superpower; making sure that the country uses regulation as a tool for innovation; and improving its ability to scale-up companies.
  • International Science Partnership Fund: DSIT’s funding for international development research has restarted, with £218m of Official Development Assistance designed “to help unlock potential and foster prosperity”, including top-ups to university direct grants worth a total of £47m. The AcSS criticised the ending of government funding for research partnerships with low and middle-income countries at the time. The renewed funding stream will see money channelled through the UK Government’s International Science Partnerships Fund (ISPF), which also funds partnerships with high-income countries and is delivered by ten research bodies including UKRI and the four national academies.
  • Scottish innovation funding boost: Scotland’s first minister Humza Yousaf has committed £8m a year to give financial support to four of Scotland’s innovation centres, and to “maximise the value” of Scotland’s universities. The longer-term funding is expected to help grow the country’s Innovation Centres, which work with its universities, colleges and research institutes to drive innovation in business as well as the public and third sectors.