Britain needs a culture of public intellectual life so it can understand the huge benefits it gets from the study of humanities and social science, argues a report to the British Academy today (sep 18th).
The report, from the LSE Public Policy Group, finds that humanities and social sciences (HSS) make big contributions to the economy, government and public life but that these are undervalued or even ignored.
It argues that the first step to recognition must be for HSS subjects to precisely measure and record the difference they are making - for example, contributing between £16 billion and £22 billion to the UK economy each year.
Professor Patrick Dunleavy, one of the report's authors, said: 'The problem was summed up by one academic we spoke to who pointed out that UK universities dominate the list of Europe's best but that our intellectual figures receive no credit or recognition for this achievement.
'It's primarily by accurately measuring and celebrating the enormous contribution of the humanities and social science that we can build up their public recognition and research funding. Many of us working in these fields have been too timid or fatalistic to challenge the sidelining of these disciplines.'
The report, Maximizing the social, policy and economic impacts of research in the humanities and social sciences, points out that HSS accounts for two fifths of UK university students but that the disciplines receive barely a sixth of government research funding. Large companies devote only around one twentieth of the research and development budgets to these areas - even where they have particular interest in public policy or consumer behaviour.
Too often, the study argues, public understanding of the 'knowledge economy' is restricted to science - even though social sciences should be increasingly important as both governments and companies turn to 'intelligent' or 'knowing' strategies for understanding how citizens and social groups really work.
There are 27 recommendations in the report, which is based on interviews with more than 100 senior people from business, government, academia, media and civil society. It also surveyed 450 academics in HSS fields and conducted 10 in-depth case studies of areas where humanities or social science have had a great impact on public life.
The survey also asked contributors to rank the actual and potential impact of their subjects and in every category showed a marked gap between the effect the disciplines have now and the impact they could have.
Also among the recommendations are calls for humanities and social science to pursue business funding more aggressively, use digital data technology more effectively and to radically improve the ways in which higher degree students are trained.
The full report is available at http://www.lse.ac.uk/collections/LSEPublicPolicy/projects.htm
Notes to Editors
1 The British Academy, established by Royal Charter in 1902, champions and supports the humanities and social sciences. It aims to inspire, recognise and support excellence and high achievement across the UK and internationally.
2 LSE Public Policy Group (PPG) is an independent consultancy and research organisation which provides thorough analysis and recommendations for a variety of clients; providing an interface between academia, the private, public and 'third' sector.
For more information contact Patrick Dunleavy 020 7955 7178
LSE press office 020 7955 7440
18 September 2008