Humanities, social sciences get own part of Horizon 2020

Work is in progress to give the humanities and social sciences a separate section in Horizon 2020, to be called ‘Europe in a Changing World’ and focusing on ‘secure societies’. The programme will have its own budget and be part of the sixth challenge in Horizon 2020.

Many organisations in Europe, notably the League of Research Universities (LERU) and the European Alliance for the Social Sciences and Humanities, have lobbied hard for a separate programme for the humanities and social sciences. The organisation Net4society even collected 25,855 signatures to an open letter stating that “Europe needs a large social sciences and humanities-centred research programme to tackle its ‘Grand Social Challenges’!”

Research Europe reports that as early as in May 2012, the Council of Ministers had decided to call for such an initiative.

The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research organised a conference in Brussels in September under the title "Europe 2020: Designing research for European societies in a changing world".

It concluded that “the EU research agenda should address issues such as employment and education, sustainable lifestyles and wellbeing, inclusion and poverty reduction, economics, behavioural sciences and understanding of cultures, involvement of cultural heritage institutions (such as museums, archives, and libraries) as well as evidence-based policy-making in a manner that gives rise to innovative approaches (e.g. through social innovation and behavioural change).”

The news of a separate social science programme has been met with enthusiasm by European higher education specialists.

Jo Ritzen, a previous rector of Maastricht University and previously also the Dutch education minister, told University World News that “the direction is more than timely”, while Sverker Sörlin of the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm welcomed the fact that “at last, a necessary funding stream for humanities and social sciences has been opened. But it is equally necessary to integrate the social sciences and humanities across all challenges.

"This will have the additional effect that scholars in these fields will have to think more strategically about the social usefulness of their work. The potential is enormous,” said Sörlin.

Rector Ole Petter Ottersen of Oslo University said: “We are grateful for the work of the Germans. It is important to have the humanities and social sciences clearly defined into the concept of security. The perversion of history as represented by people such as Anders Breivik [of the 22 July 2011 Utoya massacre] will become difficult in a society with a good understanding of its history and cultural knowledge.

"Humanities are the safety net of society par excellence and may hinder the growth of dangerous prejudices.”

Katrien Maes of the LERU said: “The work programmes of the societal challenges pillar should be designed so that [the humanities and social sciences] are integrated fully across all challenges and from the start, not as an afterthought. The humanities and social sciences should be able to participate fully in all societal challenges, not just the sixth.

"Our paper gives recommendations for what kinds of topics and issues should be considered in the work programmes of all societal challenges.”

Maes continued: “Besides that, the social sciences and humanities should take full advantage of the possibilities in the excellence science pillar as well.”

Pekka Sulkunen, president of the European Sociological Association (ESA) told University World News: “I do not think this solves the major science funding issues, but it certainly will make it easier for us to communicate with the commission.”

Asked if he did not think that the prioritisation of security and defence research would exclude most social scientists in Europe today, he said:

“No, on the contrary, this was exactly the risk before this decision [to split the original sixth challenge – inclusive, innovative and secure societies – in two parts, focusing one exclusively on the social sciences and humanities]. Philosophers and sociologists negotiating with the police and armies would not give them a very strong position. It is much better now."