Policy UpdateSeptember 2021

Sharon Witherspoon MBE FAcSS, Head of Policy, Academy of Social Sciences 

Forthcoming Budget announcements

On October 27th, government will announce the results of its Comprehensive Spending Review and its Budget.  This will include several issues of direct concern to UK social sciences.

First, government is likely to announce its long-awaited decisions on student tuition fees and university funding, in response to the Augar review.  Any announcement will affect home tuition fees for students in England and Wales, and fees paid by English students in Scotland.  We will publish a short briefing piece on what Augar recommended, and what it could mean for universities, in advance of the announcement on October 27th.  We will of course respond to the government’s announcements.  We are looking at the effects on universities across the UK as a whole, as well as the implications for UK social sciences.

Second, government is likely to make announcements about its plans for R&D funding.  Recently there has been speculation that while government may still ‘aspire’ to a public spend on R&D of £22 billion (compared to today’s £15 billion), and a total R&D spend in the UK economy equivalent to 2.4 per cent of GDP, the dates by which those commitments may change.  Those targets were initially due to be achieved in 2024/25 and 2027 respectively.  While COVID-19 has undoubtedly affected the state of the economy, it is arguable that recovery and ‘levelling up’ make investment in research and development even more important.  Again, we expect to make a statement after the Budget announcements.

It may not be clear what all this means for research budgets to UKRI and its constituent research councils, and for university funding of R&D through, for instance, QR until some days after the Budget.

Other policy developments

The 2021 REF results will not be published until May 2022 (a slight delay).  Meanwhile, another fundamental review of REF is being led by an international panel, and this may result in more fundamental changes than previous REF reviews.

There is also speculation that the Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF) funding may be reviewed, and this too may change the underpinning funding stream.  The social sciences have a strong history of KEF impact, so we will watch with interest.

Admissions to social science disciplines have held up well across the UK in the last two years, being as strong as STEM subjects except medical-related subjects.  We will produce further information later this year.

Our ESRC-funded project, Social Sciences in a Time of Change, continues.  We will launch a questionnaire aimed at Deans of Social Sciences this autumn, and then turn to analysis of HESA and other data.  The project is led by Dr Gardner and Professor Tony McEnery, of Lancaster University, and aims to chart the real time impacts of Brexit, COVID-19 and other HE changes on UK social sciences.

The ESRC has made several announcements over the summer about additional funding and programmes of work for the UK social science data infrastructure, including the longitudinal studies and further funding and support for the Administrative Data Network.  All these are very welcome.

Place to Be

Our report on 24 case studies of social science-led initiatives making real practical contributions to ‘levelling up’ across the UK will be published in October.  We will promote it via social media and our new website, as well as other engagement activities.  We want all MPs whose constituencies include one of the universities featured to appreciate just what the social scientists in their areas are doing to make the UK better.  We are grateful to SAGE Publishing for their support.


To contact us, email: policy@acss.org.uk