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Social Sciences and Humanities Integration in the European Research Funding Frameworks

Social Sciences and Humanities Integration in the European Research Funding Frameworks

Written by Katherine Calvert, WRoCAH PhD student.

1 October 2019

Since the introduction in 2014 of the current European research funding framework, Horizon 2020, integration of the Social Sciences and Humanities (SSH) has been the subject of ongoing discussions, monitoring reports, lobbying and conferences. Interdisciplinarity is promoted strongly in Horizon 2020 and the European Commission intended that experts from SSH and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) disciplines would collaborate on projects addressing topics the Commission had identified as key ‘societal challenges’. Horizon 2020 will be replaced in 2021 with the new European research funding framework, Horizon Europe, in which there is continued emphasis on interdisciplinarity.

The integration of SSH in Horizon 2020 has had limited success. For example, the most recent available statistics from 2017 show that, depending on the threshold of measurement used, only between 41% and 56% of projects with SSH involvement demonstrated levels of SSH integration considered to be ‘good’. Furthermore, there is a significant discrepancy in levels of involvement between the many disciplines falling under the SSH umbrella. Economics and Political Science are reasonably well represented and account for over 50% of the SSH experts working on ‘societal challenges’ projects. Meanwhile disciplines such as History and Human Geography account for less than 5% of the SSH experts on such projects. The full European Commission monitoring report on the integration of SSH in Horizon 2020, published February 2019, can be found here.

In response to the limited integration of SSH in Horizon 2020, a number of proposals have been made by both the European Commission as well as SSH monitoring and lobbying groups to improve the integration of these disciplines in Horizon Europe. The primary approach put forward by the European Commission is to ensure a ‘holistic’ approach to SSH integration and they underline the importance of including SSH experts at all stages of the research funding process, from the initial design and creation of topics through to the evaluation of proposals. This proposal is largely supported by the SSH lobbying and monitoring groups, who have also criticised the STEM-focused evaluation processes; as the European Network for Research Evaluation in the Social Science and the Humanities (ENRESSH) has pointed out, it is often more difficult for SSH disciplines to demonstrate immediate economic impact. In addition, there have been calls for the Horizon Europe ‘Global Challenges’ and ‘Missions’ to include explicitly SSH-focused topics to ensure the strong presence of these disciplines across the funding programme.

These discussions around the integration of SSH will be ongoing. It can be expected that the European Commission and lobbying groups will continue to monitor the integration of SSH disciplines in Horizon Europe and that persistent efforts will be made to ensure that research in these disciplines continues to improve its access to the generous funding available under the EU grant schemes.

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