Social Research news update June 2018



Social Science Graduates need Quantitative Skills

A recent report from the Campaign for Social Science notes that although social science graduates are doing well, graduates with data and numeracy skills tend to earn more.  Looking to the future, the report concludes that graduates will need to engage increasingly with the growing demand for number and data skills, and successfully deploy these alongside their critical analysis and writing skills, if the buoyancy in their employment prospects is to continue. 

How Government can work more with academia?

A new report from the Institute for Government draws on interviews carried out in 10 Departments to explore how Whitehall can make better use of evidence. Whilst the Institute found many examples of good practice, too often the use of academic evidence and expertise in forming policy appeared inconsistent and ad hoc. The report calls for significant improvements, including greater clarity about who is responsible for bringing in experts. It also makes a strong plea for Whitehall departments to learn from each other.  

It should be noted that the scale of the fieldwork was fairly limited and it would have been useful to explore the views of different players within departments as well as the perspective of those responsible for supplying evidence, including academics. 

New Geographical Classification system launched

The House of Commons library has developed a new geographical classification system that aims to further our understanding of differences, trends, inequalities and patterns of data across different areas of GB. It is based on the size of settlements people live in and will enable analysis of key questions such as how are towns faring compared with cities? Settlements are classified into one of six types as follows: 12 core cities; 24 other cities; 119 larger towns; 270 medium towns; 674 small towns and 6,116 villages and small communities. There is a spreadsheet in the downloads section that breaks down constituencies, local authorities and output areas using the new classification system.

ESRC Celebrating Impact Awards

Winners of the 2018 ESRC Celebrating Impact awards were announced at a ceremony held on 20 June. Emma Renold of Cardiff University won the Outstanding Impact in Society prize for research that has transformed relationships and sexuality education in Wales. The overall Impact Champion award was awarded to Matthew Flinders of the University of Sheffield whose mission has been to help UK social science researchers reach out beyond academia.

Brexit developments

New EU proposals for a successor to Horizon 2020 offer hope to those seeking UK participation in EU research programmes after Brexit. However, much will depend on how much funding the UK is willing to make in the future, which will depend, in part at least, on how much influence the UK is able to retain over decision making (the PM wants ‘a suitable level of influence’).

Cross Disciplinary Research Funds

Competitions for cross disciplinary challenges set out under the UKRI’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund are now starting to emerge. There are big opportunities for social scientists under a number of the themes, including ‘Healthy Ageing’, but deadlines for competitions are likely to be tight so keep an eye on the UKRI website.

UK What Works Centre for Meta-Research?

In an interesting piece, James Wilsdon welcomes the UKRI commitment to create an evidence-informed “culture of evaluation” at the heart of the organisation. Worldwide, the field of ‘research on research’, or meta-research, is advancing rapidly and James calls for the setting up of a ‘What Works Centre for Meta-Research’ in the UK.


Research Findings

Children from poorer backgrounds miss out on free pre school places

Participation in pre school education can help boost the life chances of children, particularly those from deprived backgrounds. Recent research by the LSE is highly relevant because it found children from poorer backgrounds to be significantly less likely to take up free places in pre-school education compared to their higher-income peers. The gap in take up between disadvantaged  and higher income families was highest in areas of the country where early years provision is mostly in the private sector. In contrast, in areas with more sure start centres or school nurseries that do not charge parents additional fees for ‘extras’,  the gap in take up between different types of families was relatively narrow. 

Old Age : a positive experience for some?

Analysis of the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing is somewhat at odds with the everyday fears that ageing is associated with ill-health, loneliness and poverty. As many as six in ten older people feel that ageing has been a positive experience, though relatively wealthy older people are much more likely to report ageing as a positive experience compared with their poorer contemporaries.




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