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Researchers warn against neglecting social science and humanities in Europe


30 May 2011


Innovation & Enterprise

In a discussion with Members of the European Parliament and the EU Commission in Brussels, researchers of Freie Universität Berlin and The London School of Economics warned against limiting EU funding programmes to natural science and engineering. In a globalised Europe, social science and humanities play an outstanding role for providing solutions to societal challenges. The background of the discussion is the restructuring of research funding in the European Union with a stronger focus on innovation and research projects that tackle climate change, energy and resource efficiency, health and demographic change. The researchers asked the European Commission to continue the independent programme for social science and humanities beyond the year 2014.

Over 80 representatives of research, policy and society attended the event, which was organised by the Brussels Liaison Office of Freie Universität Berlin in cooperation with MEP Maria Da Graça Carvalho of the European People's Party.

'The question is not, what Europe can do for social science and humanities, but instead, what social science and humanities can do for Europe' said Erika Fischer-Lichte, Professor in Theatre Studies at Freie Universität Berlin and panel chair of the European Research Council. European society has evolved into a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious society. These changes result in new questions and challenges that cannot be solved by research on climate change or energy.

Iain Begg, Professor at The London School of Economics and Rapporteur of the expert group on the interim evaluation of the current framework programme, highlighted that nearly three quarters of economic activity was now in the service sector: 'Innovation in these sectors will have a correspondingly larger impact on aggregate productivity growth.' Social science and humanities provide the scientific basis for responding to economic, political and societal challenges. By offering insights into pricing and regulation as well as behavioural change, they also contribute to challenges such as climate change and ageing.

MEP Maria Da Graça Carvalho, who is a Member of the EP Committee for Industry, Research and Energy said that social science and humanities have evidently a very important role to play to ensure both quality of life of citizens and social innovation for Europe in a globalised world. MEP Britta Thomsen of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats emphasised that research in these subjects provided the scientific basis for being able to make sound political decisions: 'We need more, and not less European research in social science and humanities.'

Dr Charlotte Fiala, Head of the EU Liaison Office of Freie Universität Berlin pointed out that nearly 60% of all tertiary graduates in Europe graduate in social science and humanities and that the small budget of only 2% of the current budget of the cooperation programme does not reflect this importance: 'To cut down on research funding for social science and humanities means missing out on an entire generation of future innovation leaders.'

In reaction to the appeals for an independent budget, Patricia Reilly, Member of Cabinet of Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, EU Commissioner for Research and Innovation, answered: 'I really do not know whether there will be an independent programme for social science and humanities. However, I would like to stress the importance of interdisciplinary research. We are looking at climate change, food security, and an ageing population, and social science and humanities will not be in a lower position compared to other research disciplines.'

Freie Universität Berlin has already brought forward reasons for European research funding for social science and humanities since October 2010. Its position paper was taken up by numerous universities and research associations all over Europe to make appeals to the European Commission and Parliament.

For further information, please contact:

Charlotte Fiala, EU Liaison Office of Freie Universität Berlin in Brussels; Telephone: +32 2 213 41 63