DENMARK: Social science needs higher EU profile

A Danish think tank has called for a strengthened social sciences and humanities strand in the European Union's flagship research programme, as Denmark prepares to take over the chairmanship of the European Commission.

In a position paper, The Social Sciences and the Humanities - Use it don't lose it, the Danish Business Research Academy (DEA), backed by the Danish Council for Strategic Research, argues for a stronger presence of these fields in Horizon 2020, the Eighth Framework Programme for research for 2014-20.

It says that the social sciences and humanities could be drivers of innovation.

The paper, published on 25 October, calls for an increase in earmarked investments in the disciplines so that the success rate of this part of the programme could be on par with the average success rate in the current Seventh Framework Programme (FP7).

The paper points out that 55% of Danish students graduating in the humanities in 2007 worked in the private sector, compared with 33% in 2001, and they were primarily engaged in strategic communication, product development and innovation, marketing and advertising, IT and sales.

The DEA says that research in social sciences and humanities is important for the European Commission in order to fully develop the 'Innovation Union'. But it adds that although FP7 is the world's largest research funding programme for the socio-economic sciences and the humanities, it is also smallest of 10 theme-oriented programmes.

This echoes a call from the British government in May for research in the social sciences, arts and humanities to be "embedded in all aspects of future programmes with a higher profile and increased share of funding".

Gudmund Hernes, former president of the International Social Science Council, said the Danish Presidency, which begins in January 2012, should see the issue of European decline as an enormous opportunity to refocus.

"The confluence of crises - in climate, energy and economy - needs to be addressed immediately, intelligently and forcefully by integrated research that addresses the complexities we face," he said.

"Integrated research in its very design, execution, application and presentation must bring together the natural and social sciences in joint projects.

Several examples of the use of multiple social sciences in research are listed in the report.

Notable among them, the Cambridge University Centre for International Studies programme 'Security in International Society', launched in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks in New York, draws together political science, history, international relations, economics, theology, psychology and law.

The report says: "The diversity of these fields reflects the complexity of a global society in which social, cultural and religious factors have become as important as political, commercial and military ones."

Jerzy Langer, professor of physics at the Polish Academy of Sciences and a former deputy minister of science, told University World News: "There is a fundamental point missing in the report, namely the very fact that it is business which takes more and more from the social sciences and humanities for both its daily and strategic operations.

"Services are becoming the dominant economic factor worldwide and this is precisely where the social sciences and humanities are of larger importance than innovative technologies and all the gadgetry. Therefore business will support the initiative and already asked for it."

Katrien Maes, chief policy advisor to the League of European Research Universities (LERU), said the DEA's acknowledgement that moral, social and political progress have not kept pace with mastery of the physical world shows the need for more intensified research, fresh insights, vigorous criticism and inventiveness in the humanities and social sciences.

"Research in the arts, humanities and social sciences addresses major current social, cultural, ethical and economic challenges, including the impact of scientific and medical advances, the management of international relations, development and security, and the effects of globalisation and migration'" said Maes.

"It contributes decisively to today's recognition that modern society depends on the whole range and interconnectedness of knowledge rather than on a few academic disciplines. It makes an increasingly effective practical contribution, together with other disciplines, to the creation of public policy".

A spokesman for the Danish Ministry of Education said it was waiting to see what the Commission proposed for social sciences and humanities when it adopts its proposal for Horizon 2020 in the coming weeks before taking a position. But it generally held "a positive view on the importance of social science and humanities in relation to the European research and development framework programmes".

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