Value of Social Science & Humanities in Europe

Value of Social Science & Humanities in Europe

7th December 2018

The Slovenian Business & Research Association (SBRA) held an event to promote Social Sciences and Humanities (SSH) in the European research arena, alongside their partners the Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts and the Faculty of Economics, University of Ljubljana. SSH is supposed to ‘cross-cut’ across Horizon Europe, though there is a cluster called ‘Inclusive and Secure Society’ which is the most obviously directed towards SSH. This cluster is allotted €2.8 billion, the least of the five clusters, which advocates for SSH would like to see increased. Dr. Draško Veselinovič, President of the SBRA Management Board, opened the event. He highlighted the importance of pushing for the SSH agenda when the next Parliament votes for the Horizon Europe Budget acknowledging the likelihood that it will not be this Parliament that finalises arrangements.

Key Takeaway:

  • The European Commission recognise the imbalance of SSH integration in Horizon 2020 and look to rectify this in next framework programme, Horizon Europe

In Dr. Borut Telban’s keynote lecture on ‘Time, Innovation and Values’, he spoke of his own experience transitioning from a scientific background to anthropology. His scientific education made him aware of the facts, but this had to be supplemented by the stories and perspectives of the local people he was studying. He argued that Europe should pay attention to social research beyond borders, and that our values influence what we choose to research and thereby has an effect on the facts we discover.

We then heard from the following speakers:

Dr. Jack Spaapen, Vice-Chair of European Network for Research Evaluation in the Social Sciences and the Humanities (ENRESSH): ‘Impact of social sciences and humanities on society

  • ENRESSH is a Cost Action running from 2016-2020 which ‘aims to propose clear best practices in the field of SSH research evaluation’
  • It aims to rectify the lack of recognition in policy makers about the value of social sciences and humanities
  • But this is partly the responsibility of social scientists: must be willing to communicate their ideas
  • Major societal challenges are SSH problems – financial crash, populism
  • Interdisciplinarity is one of the key ways to address this
  • Taking a larger perspective is key – identify priorities, find links between different fields, connect with stakeholders (policy, politics, industry, public organisations)
  • SSH does not equal STEM but most evaluation systems are geared towards the latter
  • There is a large variation in national evaluation systems – out of the 32 studied by ENRESSH, only two gave room for disciplinary variation (UK and the Netherlands) and included societal impact
  • Quality and Relevance in the Humanities: instrument for describing, systematically, quality and relevance in humanities research in the Netherlands

Dr. Gabi Lombardo, Director of European Alliance for Social Science and Humanities (EASSH): ‘Interdisciplinarity from a science policy perspective’

  • EASSH set up in 2015 and now has 40 members, including the University of York
  • Trying to establish a voice for SSH in science and technology
  • R&D is big business – spending has reached 1.7 trillion, so it is crucial that SSH can be involved
  • Push is for a bigger involvement of the private sector in the funding of SSH research and development
  • New narrative: multi-disciplinarity, more engagement, co-design, co-production
  • European Commission did 3 reports about integration and found that a third of projects have no SSH involvement at all
  • There is a gap between narrative and the actual implementation with regards to fighting silos
  • This brings all kinds of problems. For example, legal studies is declining – so we are developing all these new innovations but have no legal framework for them
  • Systemic problems hampering interdisciplinarity: disconnection between call design and call evaluation (completed by agencies)

 Dr. Mimi Urbanc (ZRC SAZU): ‘Research and achievements of SSH at ZRC SAZU’

  • It is vital that research policy and its implementation enable the SSH community to help knowledge grow and to create a meaningful impact
  • Several difficult questions:
    • How to balance between challenge driven and curiosity driven research?
    • Is excellence enough?
    • Does all research need to be relevant?
    • How to grasp a long term impact (that goes beyond EU financial frameworks)?
  • Impact of SSH is particularly important in education and the transfer of knowledge to future generations

Dr. Aleš Popovič, Vice-Dean, University of Ljubljana: ‘Digitalization as Driving Force for Sustainability of Individuals, Organization, and Society’

  • Digitalisation Research Group – key themes: sustainable sharing economy and society, jobs and the future of work, technologies and management practices, digitalisation, ethics, dysfunctional behaviour and pro-environmental behaviour
  • Need to recognise that digitalisation is not just about technology, it is also how people may be affected, how technology may impact things like the future of work

Dr. Maša Repež Gril,  ‘Vision of long-term transition to e-mobility’

  • Focussed on technology and using SSH to shift the mindset of people in the way they use technology
  • Showcase of e-mobility projects

Dr. Nicole Birkle: ‘Research on Societies in Future European Funding

  • One of founding members of ROSE, Research On Societies in Europe, a working group of German EU-Liaison Officers
  • Established to contribute to the debate on the new framework programme, FP9 and strengthen the role of research in societies both nationally and in European Research Area
  • There are many challenges across Europe that SSH can impact. Horizon Europe needs more work to address these issues and further incorporate SSH research
  • Horizon Europe needs to go further in its shift from discipline-oriented research towards a stronger focus on challenge
  • Stronger SSH lobbying is needed to engage key stakeholders
  • Universities can:
  1. Increase participation in stakeholder consultations and local lobbying work
  2. Raise awareness of the importance of EU funding and the opportunities it offers
  3. Develop measures to strengthen SSH capability to promote their future participation in European funding programmes in the longer-term

They are open to cooperation, please contact

Dr. Bregt Saenen, Policy and Project Officer EUA: ‘EUA Contribution to SSH in European Research and Innovation Policy’

  • EUA (represents Europe not just European Union – independent voice)
  • Headline message – fully support SSH integration in Horizon 2020 and its successor, Horizon Europe
  • EUA outline that SSH expertise is crucial to addressing societal challenges involving energy, climate change, poverty, ageing societies, migration and extremism. Better inclusion of disciplines will expand the understanding of impact and innovation beyond simplistic linear models. Multidisciplinary approaches will also increase exchange between different disciplines within STEM subjects and within SSH
  • EEUA has an energy and environment platform to connect universities across Europe to tackle the energy challenge through research, education and innovation
  • They recognise that SSH integration is unbalanced, in agreement with the Commission, with project partners often feeling like they have an auxiliary role
  • State of play – EUA has partnered with 13 other university networks to push the SSH integration message as a priority in Horizon Europe

Dr. Krzysztof Kania (DG RTD): ‘The Cross-Cutting Nature of SSH in H2020 and HE

  • Co-design of topics should be a priority
  • Evaluation: the inclusion of experts well versed in SSH matters is important
  • Important to make more SSH related awareness networks
  • In April 2018, the Commission published its 3rd monitoring report on SSH flagged projects, ‘Integration of Social Sciences and Humanities in Horizon 2020: Participants, Budgets and Disciplines’. To read it, please see link below. A new report will be published Spring 2019

Dr. Lino Paula (Head of Sector Social Sciences, ERC Executive Agency): ‘The importance of frontier SSH research for the EU agenda’

  • ERC funds long term grants that are organised around bigger domains of science
  • High risk high gain research – stimulate applicants to go for bold ideas
  • Excellence as the sole evaluation criteria and impact is not considered
  • Fundamental breakthroughs in SH research are key to addressing societal challenges
  • Liberal democracy based on the rule of law requires evidence-based governance, with independent experts that can ‘speak truth to power’

For further information:


European Commission, ‘Integration of Social Sciences and Humanities in Horizon 2020’:

EUA Working Group discussion:

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